CLEVELAND -- Johnny Manziel was far from perfect in earning his first victory as the Cleveland Browns' starting quarterback.
But for the first time he provided hope that things are coming together.
Manziel did enough in the Browns' 28-14 win that he should get the ball again. When the Browns play the Raiders on Sunday, Manziel deserves the start.
This was his opportunity, and he made errors. But they were the normal mistakes one would expect from a young quarterback and not the glaring, agonizing ones of past games. Against Tennessee, Manziel looked more like he belonged than at any point since he was drafted.
It would be a tough break for Josh McCown, who did nothing to lose the job -- what he did was try to dive into the end zone against the Jets and get a concussion. As recently as Friday, McCown was expected to be cleared and be on the field against Tennessee. But he wasn’t cleared -- much to the surprise of the Browns -- and Manziel was given the start.
From freak occurrences come chances. Manziel now deserves his.
McCown knew this was possible when he signed. He also knew that he would be 36 on opening day and he’d be working with a 22-year-old first-round draft pick. Had Manziel played against the Titans the way he did against the Jets, McCown would have deserved to return.
Coach Mike Pettine merely said he’d decide the starter when he had to and that McCown remains in the NFL’s concussion protocol. The Browns could play the “best chance to win” card and go back to McCown. But at this point the more important point seems to be to give Manziel his chance. He did enough Sunday to keep the job.
After the game, Manziel showed a little bit of swagger and a lot of gratitude. He even smirked slightly when reminded that ESPN analyst Merril Hoge promised to wear an orange-and-brown tie if Manziel led the team to a win.
Will you check it out? “Of course,” Manziel said.
Manziel even paused to reflect for a moment on all he had gone through since the 2014 season ended, including a 10-week stay at a treatment facility that he entered voluntarily in January.
He returned, admitted his rookie season was a disaster and said he would do all he could to eliminate the off-field distraction that was present last season.
He largely has been able to do that, and though he was not sterling against the Titans (he started 4-for-4, then went on a stretch when he was 3-of-10 for 22-yards), he was good enough to win.
“I’ve come a long way from that point on January 17,” Manziel said. “To be sitting here today and just have the ultimate turnaround from what was the first two starts I had last year, personally, it feels awesome.”
Manziel also showed a bit of competitiveness when he said he heard Brian Orakpo say “oh, shucks” (or something like that) on the field as Manziel spun away from him on the game-sealing TD throw.
Last season, Orakpo played for the Redskins, and he was one of the prime players taunting Manziel with his former trademark money sign during a preseason game. Manziel shrugged that off, but admitted his ability to move and find Travis Benjamin was “a little bit vintage.”
It is what Manziel brings. Not every NFL quarterback would have been able to make that play. Nitpickers can say that all Orakpo had to do was keep containing, or that another quarterback would have gotten rid of the ball in a hurry and thrown for a first down.
It doesn’t matter, really, because Manziel made Orakpo pay for his gaffe.
What does matter are the two fumbles by Manziel on third-down sacks in the third quarter. Had Tennessee recovered either, the game could have changed.
“I had two hands on the ball I felt like,” Manziel said. “I don’t know what’s going on, but it can’t happen.”
But perhaps things are evening out. The Jets recovered Manziel’s fumbles, the Titans didn’t.
Manziel was far from perfect, though his QB rating of 133.9 was noteworthy. He made mistakes, but that’s what a young quarterback does.
For the first time, he gave signs of hope that he’s getting it.
Long term he has a ways to go, and he has to prove himself.
But short term, he deserves to stay on the field.
It’s time for the Browns to see what they have in their 2014 first-round draft pick.