BUFFALO -- The earthquake that shook the foundations of the Cleveland Browns when Johnny Manziel replaced Brian Hoyer on Sunday in a 26-10 loss to the Buffalo Bills will have aftershocks that last for days.
While coach Mike Pettine was guarded in his postgame news conference regarding who starts next week against Indianapolis, he was far less guarded when he spoke with ESPN’s Sal Paolantonio after.
"The door is definitely open for a change at the quarterback position," Pettine told Paolontonio. "It's not like we're just going to go back to Brian. This has been a cumulative thing where discussions about a change at quarterback have been more and more lively. We'll evaluate both quarterbacks and have a decision soon."
That might be Monday, it might be Wednesday, but it certainly appears that the door, now open, won’t be shut: It would be a surprise at this point if the team does not go with Manziel.
Hoyer was defiant, stating he believes he is the best player to lead the team on a playoff push.
"We have four games left, and you know, whatever coach decides to do I’ll be here to support this team," Hoyer said. "I feel like this is my team and this is my job so we’ll see what happens going forward."
Hoyer said he was shocked to be pulled, that it’s never good "to see someone else doing your job," but added "it’s the coach’s decision."
"I mean this is my team and I’ve always felt that way so we’ll see what happens," Hoyer said.
What happened versus the Bills was not good. Hoyer said the entire team did not play well enough to win, him included. His main struggles:
Late in the half, Hoyer threw as if Gordon was going to cut in, and Gordon took off. Hoyer said the two players read the play differently, but also said the Browns had run the play in practice and Gordon had cut in. "You’d have to ask [Gordon]," Hoyer said.
After Joe Haden started the second half by intercepting Kyle Orton at the 25, Hoyer took a sack on third-and-10 that took the Browns out of field goal range. Pettine said the playcall included the caveat: Don't take a sack. "I didn’t really see anyone where I could even throw it at their feet," Hoyer said.
In the fourth quarter, he threw into coverage and was intercepted for the second time. "I didn’t see the safety drop back," he said.
It was after that interception that Hoyer was pulled. Manziel took over with 12:01 left and led the Browns on an 80-yard touchdown drive.
Pettine’s words indicate that the discussion had been growing more prominent and lively because of the way Hoyer had played recently.
Interesting because Hoyer earned effusive praise from his coach a week ago in Atlanta for leading a game-winning drive. Pettine said he "never considered" yanking Hoyer even though he threw three interceptions.
Recent numbers are not pretty. The past two games, Hoyer has no touchdowns and five interceptions. The past three, he completed 48.4 percent with one touchdown and six interceptions. Hoyer’s rating in those three games: 53.1. Worse, the Browns are 1-2 in them, with the game-winning drive in Atlanta saving them from losing three in a row since beating Cincinnati so impressively.
Hoyer has had to fight the presence of Manziel and the growing feeling -- not confirmed by anyone publicly -- that the front office did not view the Cleveland native as a long-term solution. As the season progressed he seemed to internalize the pressure more, though that kind of assumption from outside is always risky.
Hoyer had been living his dream, playing for his hometown team, and at one point had the Browns in first place in the AFC North at 6-3. He had bounced back from a torn ACL, worked hard and had his dream of perhaps landing a free agent contract with the Browns there for the taking.
But after losing two of three, the Browns have few tiebreaker scenarios in their favor.
Four games remain, none of them easy. Sticking with Hoyer wouldn’t be difficult, Pettine said, but playing Manziel also gives the Browns four games to evaluate the rookie.
Pettine has said over and over that the NFL is a bottom-line business.
The bottom line at this point is that Hoyer has struggled and the Browns seem about to give the ball to Manziel.