Browns must know it's Johnny Manziel time in Cleveland

BUFFALO -- Bold yet necessary, the move to Johnny Manziel under the Ralph Wilson Stadium lights Sunday is one Cleveland Browns coach Mike Pettine will almost certainly own.

There's no going back. Not now. He didn't say that, but he probably knows it, and he alluded to it to ESPN's Sal Paolantonio after the game. The handoff to Manziel seems complete, unless somebody in the Browns front office stomps their feet for Hoyer before Sunday's game against Indianapolis.

This will be an all-hands-on-deck decision this week. Better believe owner Jimmy Haslam will be briefed, if not involved.

Brian Hoyer played well for parts of this season. Some would say he overachieved, given the talent around him.

But an NFL team doesn't place one of the most high-profile rookie quarterbacks of the past decade into a game with playoff hopes distant but alive and watch him score a touchdown on his first NFL drive, then return to the previous quarterback. It says so in NFL Bylaw 12.2.JF.PLAYNO2.

The torch seemed to pass in the locker room after the loss. Johnny Manziel usually takes off quickly after games. Today, he got a fist-bump from receiver Andrew Hawkins, then walked in and out of the locker room with a phone to his ear, put on a gold watch and waited to take the podium for media interviews.

Meanwhile, Hoyer quietly put on his dress shirt and tie and later told reporters the team still felt like his.

Manziel playing four meaningful games against a brutal schedule will be the best entertainment Manziel's signature money signs can buy, largely because nobody -- not even the coaching staff -- knows exactly what will happen. He could play brilliantly or struggle, and neither would be a surprise for a rookie in a tough December stretch.

Hoyer is the safer play, but Manziel is the spark needed right now, given the situation and context. Hoyer's season stat line of 3,056 yards, 11 touchdowns, 10 picks and a 79.9 passer rating is serviceable.

His one touchdown, six interceptions and 53.1 completion percentage the past four games are not.

Manziel helped his cause with a commanding 80-yard drive in his first action. That 24-yard throw to Jim Dray that squeezed through a surging defender was strong. The athleticism and arm strength are there, but clearly the Browns will need to keep Manziel comfortable. He can handle the play-action and the no-huddle. How will he handle a good Colts defense that can prepare for him all week?

Minor Manziel/Hoyer rumblings in the Browns facility surfaced after the 24-6 loss to Jacksonville on Oct. 19. Whether Manziel's rushing threat on play-action would help the offense came up in at least one meeting room. Plus, the Browns have been pleased with Manziel's development over the past few months.

Still, Hoyer always seemed ready to fend off Manziel, especially with an impressive come-from-behind drive in Atlanta. Hoyer was good all season in the final minutes with the ball in his hands and a chance to win -- 16-of-22 for 176 yards in those pressure moments -- but he seemed to press upon the return of Josh Gordon. The two clearly were not on the same page.

The AFC picture might've played into this decision. The Browns probably know they need at least 10 wins to enter the postseason. If that threshold were eight, maybe they'd keep Hoyer, milk the clock and try to manufacture a few more victories.

These Browns -- facing the Colts, Bengals and Ravens in December -- need a lift any way they can get it. Manziel gives it.

"[He] came out there and drove down and got seven," cornerback Joe Haden said. "That's really special. I think he did a good job."

Expect mixed emotions in the locker room. Some players like the stability Hoyer provides. Players mostly stayed neutral after the game. When asked what the team's quarterback preference might be, Hawkins said there's no time to argue either way -- just time to play.

Manziel could get a full stable of playmakers if tight end Jordan Cameron returns to pair with Gordon and Hawkins.

Manziel spins the Browns all the way to the playoffs? His play lives in Browns folklore. Manziel struggles? He's a rookie still finding his way. The Browns can sell the move, either way. They are in a brilliant spot.

Manziel knows which option he wants.

"I think, at this point, it is by any means necessary, by all cost to go out and win these games to make a push," Manziel said. "All the guys in the locker room are extremely hungry to win ... I don't think this game completely shuts the door on what we want to do as a football team."