The “JOHNNY! JOHNNY!” chants aren’t going to quiet any time soon.
A week after Johnny Manziel energized all of Cleveland with a rare victory, Josh McCown did little to validate the decision to make him the starter over the NFL’s current cult hero. Sure, McCown threw for two scores in the second half, including a 4-yarder to Travis Benjamin that pulled the Cleveland Browns within a touchdown of the Oakland Raiders with 6:28 left to play.
But his fifth sack of the day stalled a potential game-tying drive, and he ended it on the next play by throwing a pick to Raiders safety Charles Woodson. The only saving grace was that a good portion of the fans didn’t stick around to see it, the guy who repeatedly flashed Manziel’s “Money” sign being an exception.
“There were Johnny chants?” McCown asked facetiously after the 27-20 loss to the Oakland Raiders. “Like I said Wednesday, I understand the situation I’m in and it’s part of it. He’s an exciting young player that I know people want to see play. I understand that.
“For me, I have to focus on where we are. We had our own problems and own issues just trying to move the ball.”
But the Browns are not a win-now team.
Oakland came into the game having lost 11 in a row on the road, and 16 consecutive in the Eastern time zone. Yet Cleveland’s offensive line was repeatedly pushed around by a Raiders defense that didn’t have a sack in the first two games. The Browns’ run game was non-existent, with Isaiah Crowell and Duke Johnson combining for a whopping 39 yards on 14 carries.
The defense gave up 100-yard days to both Latavius Murray (139 yards on 26 carries) and Amari Cooper (134 yards on eight catches). And special teams were simply abysmal, with Benjamin muffing a punt and a roughing-the-kicker call leading to Oakland’s first touchdown.
With five of the next seven games on the road, and Denver and Arizona the opponents for the two home games, Cleveland has little hope of making a playoff run. And by little I mean none.
That’s not a slam against McCown, because that’s going to be the case no matter if it’s he or Manziel at quarterback. But if the Browns are going to be bad, they may as well see what Manziel’s got. At least that way they get something out of what is shaping up to be another lost season.
“No, none,” Pettine said when asked if he had any thoughts of playing Manziel after the Browns fell behind 10-0. “You can’t put a player in a situation where he feels like he’s playing with a short leash. Then it just becomes self-fulfilling.”
Manziel has not exactly impressed in his still-young NFL career. He was woefully unprepared in his two starts last year, and his off-the-field partying fueled doubts that he could carry a franchise desperate for success.
But after spending a first-round pick on him, the Browns have to determine if Manziel can be their long-term solution at quarterback. And they can’t do that based on his ability to carry a clipboard.
Play Manziel and let him show he’s got the goods to be the starter. If so, then the Browns can use the draft and free agency to build around him, much like the Raiders are doing with Derek Carr. If not, then at least the Browns can cut their losses and move on now rather than dragging it out for another year or two.
It’s a question of when, not if, Cleveland turns to Manziel this season. By putting off the inevitable, the Browns only hurt themselves.
This article was republished with permission from the original author and 2015 Ronald Reagan Media Award recipient, Nancy Armour, and the original publisher, USA Today.