Jacoby Brissett played like Jacoby Brissett on Thursday night, like he was back at N.C. State and not a third-string rookie making his first NFL start.
The smart decisions, effective runs and ball protection were all familiar to Wolfpack coach Dave Doeren who might have been the least surprised of anyone by Brissett’s effective play in the New England Patriots’ 27-0 win over the Houston Texans.
Brissett, N.C. State’s starter in 2014 and ’15 and a third-round pick of the Patriots, looked calm and composed and his new teammates rallied around him as they improved to 3-0 without star quarterback Tom Brady.
“Jacoby didn’t look stressed out at all,” Doeren said. “It was fun to see how hard they played for him.”
The only hitch was Brissett injured a ligament in his right thumb in the win. There’s a chance he might not be able to play in next Sunday’s game with the Buffalo Bills. If he healthy enough, he’s already proven he can hold down the fort until Brady comes back.
Most NFL teams would worry about having to start their third-string quarterback, not the Patriots. Brissett stepped in for injured backup Jimmy Garoppolo and Brady, serving a four-game suspension for his role in “Deflategate” and helped the Patriots stay unbeaten.
Brissett ran for an early touchdown and was at ease in the national spotlight. He played mistake-free and then let the defense and special teams do the rest. Brissett even got normally stoic coach Bill Belichick in on the fun.
After Brissett scored on a 27-yard run, a designed bootleg, at 2:01 in the second quarter, he was mobbed in the end zone by his teammates. Then Brissett got a smile out of Belichick when he made his way to the sideline after the touchdown run and gave him the ball and a pat on the back.
Brissett looked a lot like the quarterback he was at N.C. State the past two years. He threw for 2,662 yards and 20 touchdowns last season and 2,606 and 23 touchdowns as a junior in 2014 for the Wolfpack.
The Patriots used his size (6-4, 235 pounds) and speed creatively in the run game and had him throw mostly short passing routes.
“They never really put him in a situation where he had to be throwing the ball too much,” Houston star defensive end J.J. Watt said after the game, according to the Associated Press. “They did a great job at the run game, and did a great job all around and he played well being in a tough situation.”
Personality-wise, Brissett has been a perfect fit with the the team-first, no-nonsense Patriots, too. He shied away from publicity at N.C. State. He is the guy who refused to do photo shoots without his linemen. He was known more for baking his teammates cookies and his hand-written notes than for his self-promotion or interaction with the media.
Brissett sounded like Brissett, or exactly like someone who has been indoctrinated by Patriots for a decade, after Thursday night’s win.
“You just always want to be ready and we have a great team, so players just welcome you no matter who is in the huddle,” Brissett said after the game, according to the Associated Press. “At any moment in the game no one wavered, no one flinched, and the results proved themselves with what our team did tonight.”
Brissett finished with modest numbers, he completed 11 of 19 passes for 103 yards and ran eight times for 48 yards and the touchdown. But it was what he didn’t do — no interceptions, no fumbles and only one sack — that helped his team beat a mistake-prone Texans team.
“I thought he understood the game plan well,” Doeren said. “They gave him things he was good at doing.”
Brissett’s start means N.C. State will have three former quarterbacks start in the NFL this week with Philip Rivers for San Diego and Russell Wilson for Seattle. No other college football team can claim the same.
If Brissett is healthy enough, he might have to make another start with Garoppolo nursing a shoulder injury and Brady suspended for one more game before he’s eligible to return.
Doeren has been exchanging texts with Brissett during the week and his message to his former quarterback has been consistent: make the most of your shot.
“He’ll probably get another week to do it again,” Doeren said. “Then you just wait and see what happens. You never know what’s going to happen in the NFL.”
Brissett already made the most of his first shot. And the Patriots just keep finding new ways to roll along.
Joe Giglio: 919-829-8938, @jwgiglio