Johnny Manziel entered Week 1 of the 2015 NFL season as the Browns' backup quarterback; the Cleveland coaching staff was determined to give Josh McCown a shot as the starter, forcing Manziel to watch and wait following his rocky off-season.
But as has become the norm early in Manziel's NFL career, nothing went according to script.
Manziel came in the game after McCown suffered a concussion late in the first quarter of Cleveland's 31–10 loss to the Jets. Whether or not he'll start Week 2 likely depends on McCown's health headed into Week 2. But Manziel himself probably did not do enough Sunday to swipe the permanent starting job.
He started out well enough, capping his first possession with a 54-yard touchdown pass to Travis Benjamin on a third-and-19, but it was mostly downhill from there. Manziel finished 13-of-24 passing for 182 yards and rushed for 35 more yards, but he also turned the ball over three times (two fumbles, one interception). Worse, Cleveland scored zero second-half points as the Jets pulled away.
That's not to pin it all on Manziel, who received minimal help from his blocking, run game or defense. He also just started throwing again a few days back, having been sidelined by an elbow injury in the preseason. Limited experience plus limited reps does not equal much of a starting point when thrown into the fire against a stout defense, like the Jets have.
And Manziel did look improved over his rookie-year self, at least in terms of his comfort level. Will the progress shown be enough for Manziel to unseat McCown, if the latter is healthy?
For now, it's probably doubtful. Cleveland added McCown because, despite his extremely limited ceiling, he offered a veteran presence to pair with Manziel's ... let's call it "youthful exuberance." On top of his mess of a rookie season, Manziel entered rehab for a brief period during the off-season, so the smart play was for everyone to take a step back. McCown gave the Browns an opportunity to do so.
Sure, such a game plan can be a tough sell—Manziel, in theory, remains the Browns' future at quarterback, and he certainly has more upside than McCown. However, the circumstances as they were made it all but impossible for Manziel to nab the No. 1 gig before now.
The miscues from Manziel on Sunday could force the Browns back to McCown, assuming he is available to play next week. Manziel's style of play naturally will lead to some turnovers, but the Browns don't have much margin for error as a team. Head coach Mike Pettine made clear all summer he thought McCown was the better choice for a run-first, defense-heavy team.
Keep in mind that even if Pettine & Co. had wanted to roll into the regular season with Manziel, they may not have been able to because of the aforementioned elbow injury. As recently as two weeks ago, Manziel could not even throw a football, let alone see reps with the first-team offense.
From the standpoint of a potential quarterback competition, the injury locked up the job for McCown. In terms of Manziel's development, it was just another setback.
There may be a time in the near future when the Browns deem Manziel an obvious upgrade over McCown. Many in the Cleveland fan base might argue that day already has arrived.
Manziel did not exactly throw down the gauntlet Sunday, though. He was better in spots and much the same in others, so don't be surprised if Pettine falls back on a slow-and-steady approach with McCown back in his starting role.