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Johnny Manziel's performance spawns 'positive conversation' about Browns QB job

The debate, as it stands Monday, is a hypothetical one, but it's one Mike Pettine and his coaching staff will engage in as they eye Wednesday's return to the practice field.

Veteran Josh McCown remained in the NFL's concussion protocol Monday. The Browns will learn over the next couple of days whether he'll be ready and able to play Sunday against the Oakland Raiders at FirstEnergy Stadium.

With McCown out Sunday, Johnny Manziel led the Browns to his first victory in his third career start, completing 8-of-15 passes for 172 yards and two long touchdowns in Cleveland's 28-14 win over the Tennessee Titans. After a rocky rookie season, Manziel has impressed coaches since he rejoined the team in April, shown visible improvement in most facets of his game on the practice field and carried it over in his relief performance last week against the Jets and for a full four quarters against the Titans.

It was a worthy enough performance for Manziel to enter the discussion for more playing time -- regardless of McCown's health -- and it's a "what if?" discussion that will occur before Cleveland begins its on-field preparations for the Raiders.

"It is a positive conversation because you have a young quarterback that has been through a lot that has gone out and led his team to a win," Pettine said. "We were all able to enjoy it last night. I am proud of him because if you had said back earlier in the offseason that this was going to happen, I think a lot of people would have said there is a pretty slim chance. Very proud of him and the rest of the guys for putting it together and winning the home opener."

Asked to run down the areas in which Manziel improved from Sunday's start to the two he made as a rookie, Pettine said his quarterback play from "A to Z" has taken a big step forward.

Amid all the coverage of Manziel's two long touchdown throws to Travis Benjamin, Pettine focused on a simple 17-yard completion to tight end Gary Barnidge as a key example of Manziel's development. With the Browns on Tennessee's 28-yard line, Manziel read the Titans' defense and quickly fired a pass to a wide-open Barnidge to move the sticks. Isaiah Crowell scored one play later.

"To me, it was an extension of the work that he's put in," Pettine said. "The plays that he made were plays that he made on the practice field. I would think you could get lured into that trap, thinking it was just, as you say, a fool's gold type of thing if the preparation wasn't there, the mindset wasn't there, wasn't there in practice. He prepared to be the starter, he got the reps this week, went out and made some plays."

As he did during his post-game press conference, Pettine expressed concern about Manziel's ball security issues over the past seven quarters. He's put the ball on the ground four times, two of which were lost for fumbles, and thrown one interception.

"That cannot become his flaw," Pettine said.

Whoever starts Sunday will face a Raiders team that is riding high off a dramatic victory against the Baltimore Ravens. It will also be the Browns' last game at FirstEnergy Stadium before they begin a stretch of three out of four away games.

Coming away with a win and how the team is best aligned to do so will be all that's considered as Pettine and his staff meet over the next 48 hours.

"We're tasked with winning football games," Pettine said. "The decisions we make are what gives us the best opportunity to win this Sunday."

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