Johnny Manziel isn’t giving the Cleveland Browns much choice.
Even when Josh McCown is cleared to return from the concussion that sidelined him Sunday, the Browns have to stick with Manziel as their starter. Cleveland is almost two decades into its search for a quarterback who can carry the franchise and, solid a citizen as McCown is, the 36-year-old journeyman isn’t it.
Manziel may not be, either. But he showed enough glimpses of the athleticism and resourcefulness that made him a first-round pick in 2014 in Sunday’s start against Tennessee that the Browns owe it to themselves and their fans to find out.
The sooner, the better.
“Some inconsistency, but clearly made some big plays,” Browns coach Mike Pettinesaid after Manziel sealed Cleveland’s 28-14 victory with a 50-yard scoring pass toTravis Benjamin.
Manziel didn’t pose a threat to Andrew Luck or Cam Newton for the title of NFL’s best young quarterback against the Titans, his third career start. His quarterback rating of 133.9 was the highest by a Browns quarterback since 2007, but he threw only 15 passes – four in the second half.
For the second week, he was strip-sacked twice, though Cleveland recovered the ball both times.
But Manziel wasn’t the woefully unprepared and thoroughly overmatched train wreck of his rookie season, either. He was steadier in the pocket, particularly early in the game. He showed more of the patience and savvy that it takes to be successful in the NFL, buying time until he spotted the open Benjamin on the last touchdown rather than taking off running on the third-and-6 play.
Most importantly, he led the Browns to a victory, their first since last Nov. 23 and only their second in the last nine games.
“I think I’m getting better,” Manziel said. “I still missed some things that I’m going to be hard on myself about.”
Manziel is a captivating figure, has been since his Heisman Trophy-winning season as a sophomore at Texas A&M. His hair-on-fire style can cost him – and his team – big. But it’s thrilling to watch when it works – “Vintage Manziel” is how Pettine described the last TD — and that fine line between debacle and awe is why people can’t take their eyes off of him.
His brashness has only added to his appeal, though he’s making good on his promise to tone it down following a 10-week stint in rehab over the offseason. Rather than flashing his “money” sign after connecting with Benjamin on a 60-yard TD on his first pass of the game, Manziel raised his arm and pumped his fist.
He even passed on the opportunity to fire back at persistent critic Merril Hoge.
“The satisfaction is seeing the rest of the guys in the locker room … all those guys dancing, getting the first win of the season and getting a win that we really needed,” he said. “Merril Hoge will always be Merril Hoge. For me, it’s sweet to get the first win, sweet to see how the locker room was after the game.”
That kind of jubilation has been all too rare in Cleveland in recent seasons. While there’s no guarantee Manziel would make it a regular scene as the starter, Pettine and the Browns need to let him try.
This article was republished with permission from the original author, Nancy Armour, and the original publisher, USA Today.