Johnny Manziel’s strong start doesn’t win him full-time gig

Cleveland Browns coach Mike Pettine watches during an NFL football game against the Pittsburgh Steelers, Sunday, Nov. 15, 2015, in Pittsburgh. The Steelers won 30-9. (AP Photo/Don Wright)
Cleveland Browns coach Mike Pettine watches during an NFL football game against the Pittsburgh Steelers, Sunday, Nov. 15, 2015, in Pittsburgh. The Steelers won 30-9. (AP Photo/Don Wright)

BEREA, Ohio (AP) – Johnny Manziel’s best performance in two NFL seasons earned him positive praise and rave reviews.

And a starting job? Not quite.

Browns coach Mike Pettine, whose future may hinge on his team’s performance over the final six games, said Monday he’s not ready to select Manziel as his starter for the remainder of another unraveling season in Cleveland.

“I’m not prepared to say that, but that’s a conversation that certainly will be had,” Pettine said as his team staggers into its bye week.

Making his fifth career start, Manziel passed for 372 yards in Cleveland’s 30-9 loss at Pittsburgh. He did all he could, but it wasn’t enough to stop the Browns (2-8) from losing their fifth straight game and falling to 2-13 in their past 15 under Pettine, who could become the latest Browns coach to get fired.

Pettine had high praise for Manziel, who started for the second week in a row for an injured Josh McCown. Unlike his outing the previous week against Cincinnati when he was indecisive and bailed from the pocket, Manziel took advantage of Pittsburgh’s soft coverage and completed 33 of 45 passes with one touchdown.

Manziel also overcame fumbling on his first play, a turnover the Steelers turned into a field goal. On the road, in a hostile environment against a rival, Johnny Football did better than OK.

“He showed significant progress,” Pettine said. “That was one of the better quarterback performances. I’ve seen where things have gone bad early and guys go in the tank and they get that glazed look in their eye. He was the exact opposite. He was loose. He was into it. I thought he did an outstanding job in between series, getting input from the quarterbacks.

“I just thought the improvement he made from the Cincinnati game to this one was a leap. Kind of given what he’s gone through, you’re just proud of the kid and happy for him. I just wish we had a better result from a team standpoint because he played his (butt) off.”

Pettine expects to meet this week with Browns owner Jimmy Haslam to discuss a variety of topics, with the quarterback situation certain to be at the top of the agenda. Pettine wanted to play McCown against the Steelers, but the 36-year-old’s injured ribs were still bothering him.

McCown understands that Manziel may be the choice going forward.

“If that’s the case, that’s the case,” he said. “Just from a philosophical standpoint, if you pick somebody in the first round and they start to play and start to do some good things, I understand it if that’s the decision.”

The decision on which quarterback will start remains Pettine’s, but he could be influenced to stick with Manziel if it means keeping his job.

It’s not a secret that Haslam has remained a strong supporter of Manziel, who spent more than two months in a rehab facility during the offseason and remains under NFL investigation for his actions in a recent domestic dispute.

Manziel was interviewed last month by a league official examining whether he violated the NFL’s personal conduct policy.

A league spokesman said the investigation remains ongoing.

As for his own future, Pettine will spend the next few weeks under an even brighter spotlight as a disillusioned fan base and his boss analyze whether he deserves another season.

Pettine understands the scrutiny and won’t veer from his beliefs – despite his team’s struggles.

“My mindset hasn’t changed,” he said. “If you start coaching to save your job, then you are not doing your job. I am passionate about my job. I love it here in Cleveland. I love the guys in the locker room and on the staff.

“There is nothing that I want more for this team and for this city than to be successful. While I am still sitting in this chair, I am going to do everything I can to make that possible.

“We are in an age of instant gratification and win now. You could be headed in the right direction in a lot of different phases of the program, but when you are not winning, that is what we are all ultimately judged on. This is a pass/fail league. We have failed a heck of a lot more times than we have passed, and that is the bottom line.”

NOTES: WR Travis Benjamin said his agent has had discussions with the Browns about a contract extension. The playmaker can be a free agent in March, but would like to re-sign with Cleveland – for the right price. … Pettine said CB Justin Gilbert being inactive on Sunday was not because of any off-the-field issues. The former first-round pick has been a major disappointment.

(Copyright 2015 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)

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