It's money time in Cleveland.
The second-year pro is as ready as he's going to get. It's time to see what he can do as the team's starter over an extended period of time. Time to let him steer the ship for the rest of another lost season by the shores of Lake Erie.
Now, some will probably wonder if at some point during the game I decided to hit the liquor cabinet. After all, Manziel's stat line wasn't exactly Tom Brady-esque. Or even Blake Bortles-esque.
|Johnny Manziel Week 9 vs. Bengals|
|Four rushes, 31 yards|
Manziel failed to complete 50 percent of his passes. He didn't throw for even 200 yards. The Browns didn't pick up a second-half first down until well into the fourth quarter.
And most importantly, the Browns lost the game by three touchdowns.
Compared to the numbers of Josh McCown, who has thrown 11 touchdown passes vs. only four interceptions and posted a passer rating of over 95 in seven starts for the Browns this season, Manziel's stat line looks even worse.
But the stats don't come close to telling the whole story here.
Just as he did earlier this season in relief of McCown, including a Week 2 start (and win) over the Tennessee Titans, Manziel looked light years better than the lost rookie who was pounded by the Bengals 30-0 in his first NFL start last December.
In fact, in the first half we had ourselves a ballgame. Manziel made reads in the pocket. Made plays outside of it. And led the Browns on a 10-play, 92-yard scoring drive that was both the team's longest in almost two years and the longest of Manziel's football career:
Yes, the wheels came off in the second half.
But how exactly is that any different from last week's loss to the Arizona Cardinals (a game played mostly by McCown)?
Let's be real. Whoever the Browns trot out at quarterback is going to be hard-pressed to succeed with any consistency given the team's dumpster fire at receiver:
With both Andrew Hawkins and Brian Hartline (an intimidating pair of household names) sidelined Thursday, the Browns' top receivers against the undefeated Bengals were Travis Benjamin, Taylor Gabriel and Dwayne Bowe's corpse.
The Browns' top receiving threat this year has been Gary Barnidge, a 30-year-old tight end whose career high in catches for a season entering the 2015 campaign was 13.
Just let that sink in for a second. The Browns' biggest offensive weapons in 2015 have been said 30-year-old tight end and a 36-year-old journeyman quarterback whose biggest claim to fame was parlaying half a good season in Chicago into a big free-agent deal in Tampa.
Where he then proceeded to play so badly that the Buccaneers cut bait after one year.
Explain to me exactly how this somehow prepares the Browns for a bright future? Or any future?
Of course, the team is presently led by Mike Pettine:
In the video above, Marshall Faulk of the NFL Network takes Pettine to task for suggesting that Manziel would have been better served by staying in the pocket more, as opposed to, say, doing what he does best.
Funny, I don't seem to recall ever hearing Pete Carroll make similar statements about Russell Wilson. I wonder why that is?
In Pettine's defense (said no one ever), the Cleveland head coach did tell Albert Breer of NFL.com that he's been impressed by Manziel's growth in Year 2:
He's got some stuff to be cleaned up, but if you'd asked me this a year ago, I would've been like, "It's a great mystery; I have no idea where this guy is gonna be." And if I were to handicap it, I'd maybe be at 50-50 with this guy, and that'd be generous. This year, I'm a lot more confident that if you surround him with the right people, he can be successful. ...
... He was just a lot less consistent last year; there were good days and there were bad days. This year, he's into it. I think he knows. He said all the right things when he got out of rehab and talked about it, how he felt like he let everybody down. He knows he has a long way to go and it's a process, but he said that. That was always our thing with Johnny: He said the right things, but then he didn't necessarily do them. Now, that's different.
For at least a half Thursday, despite shaky offensive line play and a pupu platter of pass-catchers, that growth was on display on the road against an undefeated team.
And for the Browns, that should be enough to say that it's time to see what they have in Manziel.
Are there still problems? Oh yes. Manziel took a couple of bad sacks. Air-mailed some throws. But he also didn't do something very important: turn the ball over.
Let's be real (again). The Browns are once again headed nowhere fast as a franchise, and with the team on a collision course with another high draft pick, it's time to figure out whether they need to use it on a quarterback.
And there's only one way to find that out. Let the kid play.
It's not complicated. When the Browns take the field on November 15 in Pittsburgh, Manziel should be the team's quarterback. McCown should be what he should have been since that promising Week 2 game against the Titans—a mentor for the young quarterback.
And it should stay that way until the curtain falls on another depressing season of "football" in Cleveland.
Sadly for Browns fans (of which I am one—sigh) though, this is Cleveland—where quarterbacks go to die.
So rest assured, Pettine and the gang will find a way to screw this up.
Gary Davenport is an NFL analyst at Bleacher Report and a member of the Fantasy Sports Writers Association and the Pro Football Writers of America. You can follow Gary on Twitter, @IDPSharks.