Houston Texans cornerback Kevin Johnson remembers playing against Jacoby Brissett when both played in the Atlantic Coast Conference.
“I remember him being a good player, an athletic mobile quarterback,” Johnson, who played at Wake Forest, said as his Texans prepared for Thursday night’s game at the New England Patriots — and against the rookie quarterback making his first NFL start.
“He’s a guy who can make the throws, a great player we have to respect and prepare for.”
Brissett, the former Florida and North Carolina State quarterback and No. 3 quarterback on the New England roster, moved up to No. 2 with the four-game Deflategate suspension of Tom Brady. Jimmy Garoppolo started the first two games but a shoulder injury to Garoppolo in the Week 2 win over the Dolphins shook up the depth chart again.
While coach Bill Belichick is unlikely to declare it fact, Brissett is almost certainly the starter when these two 2-0 teams get together at Gillette Stadium.
“He has really good poise, very smart guy,” says Texans coach Bill O’Brien. “He’s got good size. He’s like 235 pounds. He’s a good football player. When we evaluated him in the draft, we felt the same way then, too. He’s a bright guy and he’s coached very well there.”
O’Brien was Belichick’s offensive coordinator before O’Brien left to become head coach at Penn State. His defensive coordinator Romeo Crennel had the same job in New England. Linebackers coach Mike Vrabel played for the Patriots, as did nose tackle Vince Wilfork.
In short, the Texans know the Patriots.
But the familiarity with Brissett, who has played 34 minutes and attempted nine passes in the NFL, is another story.
Tuesday, Belichick didn’t officially declare Garoppolo, who suffered a sprained AC joint in his right shoulder, out for the game. He was listed as a limited participant on the official practice report.
Belichick also wouldn’t say if the Patriots were bringing in another quarterback. Wide receiver Julian Edelman, a quarterback in college at Kent State, would be available for emergencies.
“Jacoby’s done a good job for us,” Belichick said. “He’s improved every day. He’s a hard-working kid. He’s in here early, stays late, studies the game. He’s got good physical talent. He’s improved steadily since he’s been here — after the draft and all way through.”
Brissett was 6 of 9 and led his team to what turned out to be the winning touchdown drive early in the second half on Sunday. What was supposed to be a blowout turned close when the Miami Dolphins scored on three straight possessions and had a chance to tie.
The Texans have not allowed a touchdown in six quarters and Houston notched wins over the Bears and Chiefs to come to Foxborough as a rare road favorite.
“The Texans are very good on defense … they take the ball away, they create long-yardage situations, they’re one of the best third-down teams in the league again this year, which they’ve been in the past,” said Belichick, whose offense has been missing tight end Rob Gronkowski (hamstring) for the first two games and may not have him again. “They don’t give up many points. The biggest challenge is always scoring points – that’s the name of the game, that’s what we play for. They haven’t given up many. I’m sure it won’t be easy to score – we’ll have to do a good job, execute well.”
Belichick was asked by the Houston media via conference call if star defensive end J.J. Watt reminds him at all of Lawrence Taylor, the Hall of Fame linebacker he coached as an assistant with the Giants. The pair are the only two players ever to win NFL defensive player of the year honors three times.
“They both play pretty hard, yeah,” Belichick said. “I think J.J. is a relentless, a relentless player. Very instinctive and I’d say a lot like Taylor, when at the most critical times in the most important plays, that’s where those guys showed the most and that’s what great players do.”
The New England defense, which is missing key pass-rushing linebacker Rob Ninkovich (suspension), shut Ryan Tannehill out in the first quarter Sunday, but then saw the Dolphins’ quarterback throw for 389 yards in the last three quarters.
Brock Osweiler, the quarterback who played such an important part in the Denver Broncos’ run to the title last year, is 41 of 68 for 499 yards, three touchdowns and three interceptions in his first two games running the Houston offense.
New England’s LeGarrette Blount and Houston’s Lamar Miller, the running backs for the two teams, have run for 193 and 189 yards, respectively, in the first two games.