This is not what Johnny Manziel envisioned when he decided to leave college a year early and take on the National Football League. He did not expect his rookie season in the NFL to wind up as nothing more than a footnote.
But that is exactly the way this season will end for the Browns' quarterback, who has been declared out for the season finale in Baltimore next Sunday. His 2014 resume will show just six-plus quarters of action, one touchdown running and a truckload of futility.
Instead of helping the “wreck this league” this season, the league wrecked him. He leaves nursing a badly pulled hamstring and a very bruised ego. He never saw coming what eventually unfolded.
With one Heisman Trophy and a whole bunch of passing records in just two years at Texas A&M, college football became too small for the equally undersized Manziel. He deemed himself ready to make the big next step.
But when team after team after team, including the Browns, passed on him in the first half of the first round of the college football draft last May, the kid’s revenge factor kicked into high gear. They’ll all be sorry they didn’t draft me, he no doubt thought to himself.
When the lottery drifted into the second half of the round and his huge ego continued to take a beating, Manziel finally found a partner in your Cleveland Browns, who had an extra selection courtesy of a deal with Buffalo earlier in the round and traded back up to No. 22 to get him.
Vowing to “wreck this league” for and with the Browns, his selection signaled a brand new era in Cleveland professional football. The circus that surrounded him during his spectacular two seasons as quarterback at Texas A&M moved to Cleveland.
Whether he or the Browns liked it or not, Manziel was the new face of the franchise even though he hadn’t taken a snap. The national media made Berea a daily stop.
When it became apparent Brian Hoyer was the better quarterback and the more logical choice to open the season at quarterback for the Browns, Manziel took what had to be an uncomfortable back seat. He would bide his time, knowing it would come eventually.
And when it came in game 14 against the Cincinnati Bengals, Manziel received the rudest of rude awakenings of just how much better the pro game is than the college game. Watching it from the bench was one thing. Experiencing it was quite another. In the 30-0 pounding, he looked like a high school kid playing his first game.
It didn’t get much better in last Sunday’s game in Carolina, where the far less talented Panthers showed him the Cincinnati debacle was not a fluke. He was just as ineffectual despite some new wrinkles thrown in by offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan.
One was a designed run around left end. That’s when Manziel found out just how fast and quick NFL linebackers and safeties are. It was the last play he will run this season.
Linebacker Luke Kuechly and safety Colin Jones closed so fast on Manziel, he couldn’t even make it back to the line of scrimmage. It’s the kind of a play he made routinely at Texas A&M.
Unless and until he gets it under control, Manziel’s ego might turn out to be his greatest enemy. His “wreck this league” comment at the draft went viral, as did his familiar money rub. Unless he can back it up, talking and acting this way will come back to haunt him.
Even though he played very little this season, he did so with a bull’s-eye on his back. The Bengals were all over him with mock money rubs whenever they made a play against him, which was often.
As he grows older, either in Cleveland or elsewhere, chances are he will eventually develop a relationship with humility. If he continues to think he can bluster his way through the NFL, he’ll find out, as he did briefly this season, that’s not going to work unless he can back it up. And right now, he’s as far from that possibility as he can be.
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Mike Pettine most likely will be the happiest guy in Berea next Monday. The season that looked so good and turned so bad so quickly will finally be at an end. The team that takes the field in Baltimore is as bad as its record the last month.
The offense has all kinds of problems putting points on the board and staying on the field. The defense has all kinds of problems stopping the opposition and getting off the field. In other words, the offense is dead and the defense is on life support.
Sunday’s game against the Ravens will be a good test to see if Pettine can actually get his men to overachieve. They haven’t come close since the Atlanta victory, which happens to be the last time they won a game. Being emotionally ready to play a football game seems to have escaped the Cleveland locker room.
That falls on the coach and his staff. There is no excuse for what has turned into yet another late-season collapse. At some point, veteran players have to step up and play the pride card. What was it Pettine said when he took the job? He wanted his new team to “play like a Brown.” I don’t think this is what he meant.
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With apologies to Jim Mora in regard to the Browns’ pass rush this season: “What’s that? Pass rush? Don’t talk about . . . the pass rush. You kidding me? Pass rush? I just hope we can win a game! Another game.”
And without a pass rush, which has been absent more often than not this season, winning the final game against the Ravens becomes virtually impossible. Whatever schemes Pettine and defensive coordinator Jim O’Neil have employed this season haven’t worked.
Last season, the Browns racked up 40 sacks. Going into the Ravens game, that number is 30 and outside linebacker Paul Kruger (10) and Desmond Bryant (5) have half of them. No wonder the secondary is so frazzled and beat up. Linebacker Scott Solomon, fresh off the practice squad, had the lone sack against the Panthers.
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That Billy Winn interception of a Cam Newton pass midway through the third quarter in Sunday’s loss should have resulted in a touchdown and tied the game at 10-10. I rarely criticize officials, but referee Ed Hochuli really screwed this one up.
The defensive end made an acrobatic diving catch of the ball at the Cleveland 46 and rolled onto his back, cradling the football Not one Panther was within five yards of him when safety Jordan Poyer leaned over Winn, grabbed the ball from his grasp and ran 54 yards to the end zone. No signal from an official.
Hochuli immediately ruled Winn had “given himself up” and was down by contact. Not sure what he meant by that because, again, no one from the Panthers was within five yards of him to establish contact. Because it was a turnover, it was subject to a video review, which Hochuli said confirmed the call on the field.
According to the rules, the only way a player gives himself up is by deliberately kneeling to keep the clock moving, usually late in a game, or when a quarterback slides to avoid contact during a scramble. Winn’s actions fall into neither category. It should have been a touchdown.
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Notebook: Fourth-round pick Pierre Desir acquitted himself well in his first start at cornerback. Filling in for the underachieving Justin Gilbert, Desir made seven solo tackles, was extremely active, defensed a couple of passes and did not look out of place. . . . Looks as though Connor Shaw might be the Browns’ third quarterback to start a game this season. Manziel is out and Hoyer’s throwing shoulder is giving him problems after taking a sack Sunday, , , , In the last three games, Josh Gordon has been thrown to 18 times, catching nine for 108 yards. In his first game back from suspension, he was thrown to 16 times, catching eight for 120 yards. Make of that what you will. . . . Two more injuries along the defensive line, the hardest hit position this season. Latest to leave are Ahtyba Rubin and Ishmaa’ily Kitchen. The Browns are down to three relatively healthy defensive linemen: Winn, Bryant and Sione Fua. . . . Hard to believe, but the Browns were credited with no quarterback hits against Carolina.