“I will start out addressing the quarterback position: Josh was cleared by the independent neurologist this morning so he is 100 percent cleared to return to play. He’s done everything that we have asked of him in the offseason and so far this year, he had earned the right to be our starting quarterback. We feel that he gives us the best opportunity to win on Sunday.”
And with that, Cleveland Browns head coach Mike Pettine made it official, Josh McCown is back as the starting quarterback for this Sunday’s game against the Oakland Raiders at FirstEnergy Stadium. McCown was knocked out of the season opener against the New York Jets with a concussion on the Browns first offensive series. The Browns coaching staff was optimistic last Friday that McCown would be cleared from NFL’s protocol on concussions, but he wasn’t. McCown was cleared on Wednesday morning and will be back under center on Sunday.
“I solicited the opinions of Flip (offensive coordinator John DeFilippo) and of (quarterback coach) Kevin (O’Connell,)” Pettine said. “Those were the main guys that I leaned on. We were all in agreement but all felt the same way that Johnny has made a lot of strides and we have no problem with him playing football for us. We have a plan for him, and we feel that he is headed in the right direction, but ultimately, we rolled with Josh.”
“There was no doubt in my mind that I was going to come back prepared to play,” McCown said. “Obviously, Coach Pettine and the coaches, anytime you have a situation like that, obviously, with a young guy like Johnny, a guy that you picked in the first round, to go out and play the way he did, there’s so many positives to draw from it. All I knew, for me, like I said since I got here is I’m going to prepare like I’m ‘the guy’ until told otherwise, we’ll adjust but preparing to do whatever it takes to help our team win. That’s my mindset. As a competitor, you always are ready to go and expect to be ‘the guy’ so that was my expectation going into this week.”
“I was just told this morning coming into meetings,”Manziel said. “I think I took it alright. It is obviously disappointing. You can look at it in a couple ways. You can also look at it as Josh was our starter. Josh got hurt. It is the job of the back-up to come in and fill that bridge until the starter gets back. There are a couple ways to look at it really. That is the way that I am looking at it right now. I did my job as a far as bridging the gaps in-between while Josh was out.”
Manziel did a good job in leading the Browns to a home opening win over the Tennessee Titans 28-14 last Sunday and in place of McCown against the Jets. The Browns need to see what they have in Manziel going forward, but it’s clear the coaching staff feels McCown gives the Browns the best chance to win this Sunday against Oakland. The coaching staff appears to believe in the philosophy that a player shouldn’t lose his starting job because of injury. McCown is clearly thrilled to be back as the starting quarterback but also feels for Manziel as well.
“I’ve been there. I’ve been on both sides of this thing,” McCown said. “I’ve been the guy in front with a first rounder waiting in the wings and people waiting on that guy to play and wanting that guy to play. Then, I’ve been in situations where I’ve been the guy everybody wants to play. You go to both sides of it where as a competitor, we wouldn’t be in our situations – if he didn’t want to play, he wouldn’t be here. I appreciate that fact, we both do. Again, it’s about him continuing to grow and all of us together doing our job in our room to play good football.”
“Obviously I’m not going to sit here and say I love the decision,” Manziel said. “I respect Coach Pett. That is the guy that makes the calls for this team. I am going to be a team player and do what I need to do from here and out and be ready if my number is called on Sunday, the next one or six, seven or eight weeks or whatever the case may be. I felt like I went out and did some good things. Like I said, I bridged the gap whenever I got my chance to go out there this week. That is what we needed. Our team needed a win. I was the next guy up. We got the win.”
In just week three of the NFL season, the Browns have not had a quarterback make back to back starts at quarterback. Could that be an issue heading into the Sunday’s game against the Raiders and could it be an issue with the players in the locker room.
“No, I get where you are going with it,” Pettine said. “Is team morale taken into account when we make a decision like this? We factor in all circumstances. It wouldn’t be at the top of the list, but to say that we would ignore it completely wouldn’t be true either.”
“I’d say there wasn’t a reaction at all,” wide receiver Travis Benjamin said. “Josh coming back and the pro and the vet he is and the way he runs things, it’s not no slack on Johnny. Johnny comes here ready to ball each and every day. It’s just Josh we have to go with going into Week 3.”
“I can’t say either way. I think we have to support whatever decision was made,” offensive lineman John Greco said. “We feel comfortable either way, whatever quarterback is in there. Both quarterbacks are able to lead us to a win. We are happy that Josh is healthy and we are happy that Johnny showed a lot of confidence out there leadership wise last week and it helped our side get a win.”
Only time will tell if Manziel will get another chance to play this season or not. McCown is the man for now and it appears he won’t be on a short leash if he struggles in the near future.
“I think with any player, anytime you put a guy on a leash and in the back of his mind it is ‘Hey, if I make one mistake, I am out’. I don’t think that is any way to play,” Pettine said. “In most situations, that becomes self-fulfilling. He is our starting quarterback, and we will take the situations as they unfold. We never talk in terms of leashes.”
Last season when Brian Hoyer was the starting quarterback, the Browns did have a package of plays that involved Manziel. It will be interesting to see if there is a plan to do the same this season or not.
“I don’t see that right now,” Pettine said. “That’s something maybe we can discuss down the road. It’s comforting to know now that through his preparation – that showed up in Week 1 – that he went into that week knowing that he was clearly going to be the two and there was a more than reasonable chance he wasn’t going to have to play and ended up having to play a full three quarters of the game and I thought handled his business very well from a mental standpoint. It was obvious to us that he was prepared, and that needs to continue and he knows that. When we talked to him this morning, that was part of the conversation, that there’s no reason to change the approach now. He should also know how quickly things can turn and that the preparation is important because he’ll be one play away.”
It will be very interesting to see how the fans will respond to the decision of McCown over Manziel when the Browns take the field on Sunday.