Johnny Manziel continues to show on-field growth

CLEVELAND -- All the caveats apply.

Bad opponent. Tougher games ahead. Still just six career starts.

But one fact also applies: Johnny Manziel played his best overall game as a Cleveland Brown in Sunday’s win over San Francisco. His team won, and Manziel took a definite step toward showing he can be an NFL quarterback.

Picking at anything in this game other than one ill-advised throw before halftime would not be fair. Manziel was productive, confident, poised and his team (at long last) won.

“He did a lot more good than he did bad,” Browns coach Mike Pettine said.

The obvious bad play came when Manziel tried to throw across his body to the middle of the field late in the first half and was intercepted. That led to Manziel smashing a Surface tablet against his forehead as he realized he missed a potential touchdown pass to Gary Barnidge.

The other bad plays came when he was sacked at the 4-yard-line on a three-man rush, and on the next play when he was sacked out of the back of the end zone for what appeared to be a safety. San Francisco’s Corey Lemonier grabbed Manziel’s face mask, though, negating the safety.

To Manziel’s credit, none of the bad plays affected him beyond the single play. He played from the pocket and made throws. He scampered out of the pocket and made throws. He even scrambled for gains and slid when he needed to.

This was a solid overall game from Manziel, who now has won starts over Tennessee and San Francisco and lost to Cincinnati and Pittsburgh.
 The key, though, is that Manziel has played his best most recently.

After struggling in the second half against the Bengals, Manziel threw for 372 yards against the Steelers and followed with 270 and a win over San Francisco. He was helped greatly by an effective run game that produced 230 yards, but he also contributed.

“Like I said, every time I have been behind center and gotten a chance to make another start, I feel more confident,” he said.

He completed six passes that were longer than 20 yards, including a perfect throw to Brian Hartline down the hashmark for 24 yards as well as a rollout left and throw to Hartline for 34. He also found Barnidge for passes of 30 and 24 yards, and would have had a first-half touchdown had Hartline not been stripped of the ball at the 1, just before he was about to score.

“Every time I have gotten back there I have learned something,” Manziel said.

He emphasized he is continuing to try to learn from, and not repeat, mistakes. This season he has completed 61 percent of his passes with six touchdowns and three interceptions. His rating for the season: 89.2.

That rating would be higher had Travis Benjamin not dropped a touchdown against Pittsburgh and Hartline not fumbled Sunday against the 49ers.

“It’s getting better,” Manziel said.

The evidence is persuasive.