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Sticking with Brian Hoyer over Johnny Manziel may be the Browns' undoing

"Brian gives us the best opportunity to win."

Those were Mike Pettine's words when he announced earlier this week that Brian Hoyer would keep his starting QB job, leaving Johnny Manziel again relegated to backup duties against Indianapolis. 

Maybe it was true. Longtime Browns offensive tackle Joe Thomasreportedly lobbied for Hoyer -- ex-Brown Nate Burleson did the same on the NFL Network Sunday morning -- and it's possible that Manziel simply is not doing what he needs to in practice or team meetings to climb the depth chart.

"When Joe talks, it always carries weight with me,'' offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan said, according to "Anytime a guy who's as good of a player as he is, who puts in as much work as he does, when he talks, every coach or player is going to listen."

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The reality is that Cleveland had a chance to win this week in spite of Hoyer, not because of him. When the Browns needed their offense, it vanished. The result: a heartbreaking 25-24 loss to the Colts that leaves their playoff hopes fading ... and their 2015 plans at QB still a complete mystery.

"I did not consider a change during the game," Pettine said afterward, then added that he would not make an immediate call on his Week 15 quarterback.

Pettine's reluctance to turn the No. 1 spot over to Manziel may be understandable, especially if you buy into the "team wins" argument -- Cleveland entered Sunday a surprising 7-5 with Hoyer at the helm. There is not as easy an explanation for Pettine's complete aversion to pulling Hoyer again Sunday.

When you really boil it down, there was one play during that 25-24 loss when Hoyer truly gave his team "an opportunity to win."

It came in the final minute, after Andrew Luck had led Indianapolis to a go-ahead score. On the first play of Cleveland's ensuing possession, Hoyer hung in the pocket and unleashed a beautiful pass deep to Josh Gordon. The Browns' receiver dropped it as he tumbled out of bounds.

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Had Gordon made that grab, there's a very realistic shot that Cleveland would have won the game and improved to 8-5, rendering the Hoyer-Manziel argument moot for another week. 

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Gordon didn't, so instead the Browns have to circle back on a 14-of-31, two-interception showing from their QB. 

Cleveland had every chance to pull away, thanks to its defense, which scored twice. It also handed Hoyer's offense a short field by forcing another turnover in the fourth quarter. The Browns led 21-19 at the time; a touchdown might have started to salt away the game. Instead, Hoyer threw a three-yard pass on 2nd-and-11, then fired incomplete on third down, so they settled for a field goal.

The offense's overall stagnancy -- 248 total yards on the day -- does not all fall on Hoyer's shoulders, just as wins should not be credited to quarterbacks alone. Could the situation have been any worse, though, with Manziel under center?


"We gotta watch the tape," Browns tight end Jordan Camerontold the NFL Network's Aditi Kinkhabwala, "but we suck."

With three weeks left in the season, Cleveland suddenly finds itself treading water around .500 and in last place in the AFC North by its lonesome. Pettine's team is just one game back of a wild-card spot but likely has to win out and get help to sneak into the playoffs. 

Sticking with Hoyer now, given the circumstances would be either pure stubbornness on Pettine's part or a scathing indictment of Manziel's rookie progression. Either way, such a decision would do little to help the Browns in either 2014 or '15. Aside from a last-minute drive to beat Atlanta, Hoyer has played as poorly over the past month as any starting NFL quarterback.

If the Browns still see the status quo as their "best opportunity to win," they don't stand much of chance down the stretch.