Despite an impressive showing from Manziel during the team’s 28-14 victory over the Tennessee Titans in Week 2, the Browns announced Wednesday on their official website that Josh McCown will be the starting quarterback for Sunday’s contest against the Oakland Raiders after successfully emerging from the league's concussion protocol.
"He gives us the best opportunity to win Sunday," head coach Mike Pettine said on the decision to start McCown, per Tom Reed of Cleveland.com.
When asked if McCown would have a short leash, Pettine added, per Mary Kay Cabot of the Plain Dealer, "We never talk in terms of leashes. He's our starter."
On Thursday, offensive coordinator John DeFilippo said Manziel's ball-security issues factored into the decision, per Nate Ulrich of the Akron Beacon-Journal.
"It wasn't a quick decision," DeFilippo said, via Cabot. "I told them we're going to need them both. It's a long season.''
On Sept. 20, Pettine said once McCown was healthy, the decision would come down to a simple factor, per Cabot: "We're tasked with winning football games, and the decisions we make are what gives us the best opportunity to win this Sunday."
Manziel’s most recent performance clearly wasn’t enough to win the job even though he threw for 172 yards and two touchdowns and did not tally a single interception. McCown started the year under center for the Browns but left the season-opening loss against the New York Jets with a concussion and was not cleared to play in the second contest.
James Palmer of NFL Network highlighted what Manziel brought to the table in his relief appearances:
That big-play upside didn't allow him to keep the starting job, though.
"Johnny did an outstanding job with his opportunity," said Pettine, per Steve Doerschuk of the Repository. "I'm very proud of him personally and professionally."
"We now feel like we have a backup who can come in and move the team and win games for us," added Pettine, per Ian Rapoport of NFL Network.
Pettine finished by noting Manziel will not have his own package of plays at this point, per Cabot.
Cleveland was relying on McCown as its starting quarterback coming into the 2015 campaign even though he is fresh off a disappointing season that saw him throw 11 touchdowns and 14 interceptions with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
Still, the veteran has been in the league since 2002 and brings an experienced presence into the huddle and locker room. The cliche in the NFL is, "Players don’t lose their spots to injury" (even though that is not always historically the case), and McCown will have an opportunity to prove he can lead this Cleveland team into playoff contention.
After all, he is not that far removed from an impressive 2013 season with the Chicago Bears in which he threw for 13 touchdowns and just one interception. Perhaps that version of McCown will take the field Sunday, although he has only 48 career touchdowns to 58 picks if 2013 is removed from his resume.
While McCown will start against the Raiders, Manziel nearly did enough to earn the nod with his crunch-time play. He connected with Travis Benjamin for two touchdowns, including a 50-yarder with the outcome hanging in the balance in the fourth quarter.
NFL Network analyst and former NFL wide receiver Nate Burleson thought the former Texas A&M playmaker should remain the starter for Week 3 partially because of the chemistry he developed with Benjamin:
However, it’s not as though Manziel has an extensive track record to fall back on in this competition. He threw for a meager 175 yards in his rookie season last year and never appeared comfortable under center. He also turned the ball over three times in the second half after he took over for an injured McCown in Week 1 and fumbled twice against Tennessee (the Browns recovered both times).
Pettine seemed to think it was a positive thing he was forced to choose between the two quarterbacks, per Pat McManamon of ESPN.com:
We're going to put it all on the table and talk about it and we'll see where it takes us. As I already mentioned, to me it's a positive conversation because you have a young quarterback that's been through a lot that has gone out and led his team to a win.
I'm proud of him, because if you would have said back early in the offseason if this was going to happen I think a lot of people would have said it's a pretty slim chance.
The 36-year-old McCown was likely seen as more of a placeholder for the Browns until Manziel (or someone else) took over long term, but Cleveland is going to give him a chance to prove he is the short-term answer as that placeholder.
Even if Manziel represents the future for the Browns, the present belongs to the veteran.