EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- Before we address one Johnny Manziel, let's ponder some of the numbers from the Cleveland Browns’ 31-10 loss to the New York Jets, an NFL-record 11th season-opening loss in a row.
A run defense that gave up 154 yards, 4.3 yards per carry.
A run offense led by two quarterbacks, one of whom left the game with a concussion after one quarter.
A total of 112 yards in the second half in offense.
With those numbers, it might not matter if the Browns play Johnny Manziel or Johnny Rocket or Johnny Unitas at quarterback. It’s tough to win when the team as a whole plays that poorly -- and has its worst season-opening loss since 2007.
So he will be the storyline in the week of chatter leading up to the game.
And what a storyline that game offers.
Tennessee is quarterbacked by Marcus Mariota, the quarterback the Browns declined to trade for before this year’s draft because they felt the price was too high. The Browns will be quarterbacked by Manziel, the quarterback the team decided to trust for its future while bypassing Mariota.
Manziel, in his opener, threw one touchdown pass, then reverted to looking like the uncertain rookie of 2014 in the second half.
In his opener, Mariota threw four touchdown passes in a 42-14 victory against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
Mariota’s rating was, well, perfect.
Manziel’s game can be critiqued a number of ways. He threw a touchdown pass on his first drive, but his next 23 passes totaled 128 yards, and in the second half he was a dervish who spent much of his time trying to evade Jets defenders. Usually unsuccessfully.
Manziel fumbled twice in the fourth quarter. He threw an interception in the third. He had a nice run in the second quarter that was wiped out by penalty, but he came back to throw the touchdown pass. He had another nice run in the fourth quarter, but almost was knocked into the East River as he went into a slide by ex-Brown Buster Skrine. That gain was also wiped out by penalty, but without the penalty it’s logical to think Jets coach Todd Bowles would have challenged the “down by contact” call and gained the fumble that Skrine caused.
Manziel lovers will point to the touchdown and the runs called back.
Manziel haters will point to the turnovers.
Manziel himself? He’ll talk about how the second half was a downer, but he did some good things.
The bottom line: The Browns lost 31-10, and in the second half Manziel was one of many who did very little to help the Browns win a game. Manziel’s turnovers, in fact, contributed mightily to the ugly loss to a team that went 4-12 one year ago and blew up its coaching staff and front office in the offseason.
Now, many eyes will be on Manziel if he does start against Tennessee.
But he’ll be guiding a team whose significant offseason addition on offense -- Dwayne Bowe -- was inactive on Sunday, and whose running backs gained a total of 42 yards on 19 carries, and whose defense gave up two touchdowns rushing and two throwing.
The Browns hope a week of practice time will help Manziel settle in as the starter. He got no reps with the starters the past week and missed all practice time since Aug. 23.
Manziel has to play better than he did in the second half. In theory, a week of practice will help.
The rest of the team, though, has had plenty of chances to work together.
Why it didn’t work for them is a subject of long and intense discussion.