Manziel proves it's still all about football

If only Johnny Manziel could have played defense.

Well, I guess he could have, considering Texas coach Mack Brown recruited him as a safety coming out of high school. Oh, what a show it would have been if Johnny Football went from schooling Alabama's defense with his arm and legs to intercepting one of AJ McCarron's passes.

But that's for PlayStation enthusiasts. In real life, Manziel did everything he could have to give the Aggies a second consecutive victory over a No. 1-ranked Alabama team. Instead, we're left applauding him for arguably the best performance in a loss to date.

Yes, Manziel's ill-timed interceptions helped Alabama pull off the 49-42 victory in College Station, Texas, on Saturday, but when you look at how Manziel brought his team back and was probably a converted onside kick away from sending Saturday's shootout into overtime, you can't help but be impressed with just how good Manziel is.

His Heisman Trophy should have been enough. But after a controversial offseason, we felt we needed to see more. Manziel made sure we did.

We bashed Manziel for his offseason escapades. From hanging with Drake, chillin' with LeBron, golfing in paradise and getting wrapped up in an autograph-signing controversy, we didn't think Manziel had enough focus to duplicate his record-breaking 2012 performance. We expected more fizzle in his encore.

Boy, were we wrong. For having so much fun off the field, it's clear that when Manziel was around the football during the offseason and in fall camp, he was as focused as ever. He's grown as a passer and game manager. That actually might say more about him than anything. He really can mix business with pleasure and excel at both.

In the biggest game of his career, all Manziel did was throw for a school-record 464 yards with five touchdowns. He ran for another 98 yards. The 562 yards of total offense he registered against Alabama rank second all-time in SEC history.

When Alabama took what we all thought was a commanding 35-14 lead after Vinnie Sunseri intercepted Manziel and took his pass 73 yards to the house in the third quarter, Manziel shrugged and the Aggies drove 58 yards to make it 35-21. He then opened the fourth quarter with a four-play, 80-yard touchdown drive to make cut Alabama's lead to 42-28. Following a T.J. Yeldon fumble, Manziel hit Mike Evans for a 95-yard touchdown pass to make it 42-35.

After Manziel again drove down the field for a scoring drive to cut Alabama's lead to seven with 15 seconds remaining, he needed an onside kick to go his way. It didn't, but imagine if it did.

When we thought the pressure of the big game -- some dubbed as the new Game of the Century -- would get to him, he got to Alabama. And when Manziel had every opportunity to gloat and show up his opponent when the Aggies took an early 14-0 lead, he didn't. The taunting that tainted his short-lived debut in Week 1 was nowhere to be found.

Actually, it was Yeldon who was flagged for doing Manziel's patented money sign celebration and adding the infamous double throat slash.

For once, Manziel didn't play the role of villain. He just made play after play. He even had an Eli Manning-David Tyree moment when he somehow slipped out of Jeoffrey Pagan's attempted bear hug and heaved an errant pass off his back foot into traffic on third-and-8 that somehow found the mitts of wide receiver Edward Pope for a 12-yard gain.

But this wasn't just any 12-yard gain. The play began at Alabama's 34-yard line, but Manziel flamboyantly scampered around to avoid Pagan's sack before launching his pass from A&M's own 40 in front of four Tide defenders rushing toward him.

If that isn't the play of the year, it will only be because of some other wacky play Manziel makes later this season.

Manziel didn't win the game on Saturday, but he had to have won over many of the people saying he wasn't focused enough for another magical season.

So bring on the tweets, Johnny. Take a short trip to Toronto. Spend a night in Austin, Texas. It clearly isn't getting in the way of that thing called football.