Jacoby Brissett shouldn’t be in Canada this weekend. The Indianapolis Colts quarterback would rather still be playing.
Instead of battling minus temperatures in our frozen tundra, Brissett should be battling to play in the Miami sun in February at Super Bowl LIV.
But such is life in the NFL where, despite a stout defence, strong running game and his impressive transition from backup to starter on the eve of the season, Brissett and the Colts did not make the post-season. The Colts were riddled with injuries, and an ultra-competitive AFC South that put two teams in the playoffs meant Indy was on the outside looking in.
The combined winning percentage of the 2019 playoff field is .708, the highest in a single post-season since 2005 (.719). Six teams qualified for the 2019 playoffs with at least 12 wins, tied for the most 12-plus-win teams in a season in NFL history.
Translation: you can’t just be good anymore, you have to be great, and lucky, just to get a ticket to the tournament (winner of the NFC East excluded).
The NFL is a cold, cruel world, but Brissett is looking at the bright side as the optimist loves that the extra free time afforded him the opportunity to travel and learn he has fans north of the border.
Brissett is in Canada with NFL Canada to crown a “Fantennial Challenge” winner. Thomas Tessier Villeneuve of Orsainville, Que., a small town just outside of Quebec City, won a trip to Super Bowl LIV as the ultimate Colts super-fan, earning the title by painting T.Y. Hilton on canvas and even decking out his baby and dog in Colts gear, among others things.
Brissett shouldn’t be surprised he has fans in the Great White North. Canada has close to 12 million NFL fans and, on average, more than four million Canadians watch the NFL weekly. What should they expect when they tune in for conference championship weekend?
During his time in Toronto, I asked Brissett to break down the four quarterbacks still playing, how former teammate Andrew Luck is doing, and what it’s like being a part of the revolution of black quarterbacks. Here’s what he had to say.
Sportsnet: What brings you to Canada?
Jacoby Brissett: The NFL. They were trying to find the number-one NFL fan of Canada. Happened to be a man in Quebec, by the name of Thomas. I got a chance to go hang out with him for a little bit.
SN: Were you surprised to learn how many NFL fans there are in Canada?
JB: No question. Just because, you see how big hockey is. I’ve had the privilege of meeting players that have spent time in the CFL, and I have Canadian friends.
They have the Argonauts and so many other good CFL teams that you’re surprised that they show love and feel the NFL.
SN: There were times things were really rolling for you personally and the team, and some times of struggle this year. How would you describe the season?
JB: A roller coaster. A great learning experience. Definitely some things that you want to work on and get better at. That’s the exciting part. Correcting those things for next year. We started off hot and then didn’t finish so well, so you got to find a way to stop the bleeding. I think we’ve got the right guys now. I think we’re moving in the right direction.
SN: What are the things, personally, that you want to work on?
JB: Becoming a better quarterback and finding ways to be a better teammate to guys – to make them want to play just that much harder, that much better. To raise the level of play of, not just myself, but the group around me.
SN: This was the year of the black quarterback. Why do you think, across the league, black quarterbacks were finding success in so many different ways?
JB: More and more worthy black quarterbacks have come into the league and they’re proving themselves. It’s not just good black QBs, they are a good quarterback in general. You see a guy like Lamar (Jackson), who’s probably going to win MVP this year.
We’ve been counted out. I remember last year around this time hearing how he can’t throw the ball and all these things. He’s leading in some of the most difficult passing categories this year. Look what DeShaun Watson does, Patrick Mahomes does, and these guys are making names for themselves in the NFL and it’s transcendent for black quarterbacks. It’s a great, great team to be a part of.
SN: There hasn’t been as much progress in terms of black coaches and the Rooney Rule. Does that concern you?
JB: No question. You see so many black coaches that deserve the opportunity.
So many guys interview for jobs. It’s only a matter of time before they get the opportunity to show why they should be hired. It’s something that we talked about a lot in our locker room, and around the league, that has to be addressed. At some point, you’ll see that switch and I can’t wait for it.
SN: Of the four teams remaining, what parts of their game are you really impressed by?
JB: You see these teams have their identity. It’s cool because, being an NFL QB, coaches preach we’ve got to find our identity. And then when you see that in the playoffs it works.
It just makes the game that much more fun because the other team knows what you’re going to do. You know what you’re going to do, and you still just find a way to make it work.
They create their identity throughout the year and then this time of the year, when you got to be at your best, they stick to it.
SN: Is there a guy still playing that you’d love to see win a Super Bowl?
JB: It would be Jimmy Garoppolo, my former teammate.
I just think Jimmy just stays true to who he is. On Sunday, it’s Jimmy being Jimmy. He just has that mentality. He’s just a gunslinger and it has played out well for him.
Just look at his track record throughout his NFL career. He’s played at a very high level and he’s put his team in a position to essentially win a Super Bowl.
SN: As a quarterback, what’s your appraisal of the other QBs in the final four.
JB: I think Aaron (Rodgers) is one of the best to ever do it. He’s done some things that will probably never, ever be done again at the quarterback position and he’s done it for so long at a high level and been able to be consistent.
That’s the hard part about this job is just being consistent at what you do well, and he’s done that.
Ryan Tannehill, I just think he’s accepted his role very well. He stepped into a tough situation in the middle of the year when, you know, Marcus Mariota has been there for so long and to be able to adjust. You respect his journey to where he’s at right now.
He celebrates with the team, he’s winning. You can see that everybody matters to him.
Patrick Mahomes’ running, his ability to extend plays and push the ball down the field, it’s second to none.
He’s another guy that you see him do some things with the football that you’ll never see done for a long time.
SN: What was it like for you when there was so much spotlight on Andrew Luck’s decision and then you had to figure out how you’re going to lead the team every Sunday?
JB: Just had to be true to myself. We have a really good locker room. We have really good guys, we have good coaches, staff and support staff. They put good people in the building.
You just rely on that.
We have a lot of guys that are self-motivated and want to go out there and do their best.
SN: Did Andrew’s decision surprise you like it did everyone else?
JB: No question. When anybody retires, it’s a shocker because you just don’t always think that. Everybody’s trying to play up until they can’t anymore, until we’re just too old to play and whatnot. Then when I talked to him, heard him out and listened to him. Within 10 minutes, you definitely understood what his reasons were.
We’ve formed a relationship and friendship that’s going to last longer than football.
Every time we talk it’s a little less about football each time. It’s definitely a relationship that I enjoy.