ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. – With the Browns trailing 20-3 early in the fourth quarter – and the game seemingly over – Cleveland inserted rookie quarterback Johnny Manziel into the game to jumpstart the offense.
And that's exactly what he did.
On the first full drive of his NFL career, Manziel led the Browns to their first touchdown of the day – eight plays, 80 yards in three minutes and 14 seconds. Manziel did it all on the methodical march down the field, completing three of four passes and finishing it off with a nifty 10-yard scramble for the score.
Cleveland has long maintained the best players will play on Sundays. The coaching staff will have to think long and hard about whether Manziel or Brian Hoyer gives the Browns the best chance to win next week at FirstEnergy Stadium against the Indianapolis Colts.
"If that is the case and my name is called, then I definitely will be ready," said Manziel.
"I don't really care who is back there: I just want to win," said left tackle Joe Thomas
The highlight throw of Manziel's scoring drive came on second-and-10 from the Buffalo 36-yard line. In the shotgun formation, Manziel let a pass rip down the middle of the field between two defenders right into the hands of tight end Jim Dray. The play resulted in 24 yards and showed the rookie's ability to fit passes into tight windows.
Buffalo is a daunting to place to play on the road. The Bills have one of the best defenses in the NFL. Those two ingredients for most rookie quarterbacks are a recipe for disaster. Even though he admitted he was "very, very nervous," Manziel weathered the oncoming storm by playing confidently in his first snaps since Cleveland's Week 3 game against the Baltimore Ravens.
"It felt great," Manziel said. "Anytime you can drive 80 yards on a defense like that and a defensive front like that and make a couple of plays, receivers running great routes.
"I feel like I got a lot of help. Like I said from the very beginning, all the way from the running backs to the O-line to every receiver that's out there with me, they helped me tremendously. I'm very thankful for those guys and having veteran guys that were able to calm me down and continue to try and keep pushing."
Overall, Manziel finished 5-for-8 for 63 yards and he rushed two times for 13 yards. Coach Mike Pettine acknowledged the Bills might've been in some softer coverage to better protect their lead, but, regardless, the Browns' head coach was impressed.
"You know, we're in a bottom line business and he was tasked with moving us down the field," said Pettine. "He did and he did a good job, made some throws and certainly made some plays with his feet.
In his lone, other possession, the 21-year-old wasn't able to replicate the success. A broken play where Manziel was forced to improvise was first ruled a fumble but later overturned. There wasn't even evidence to overwhelmingly declare Manziel's first extensive outing a world-beating success. Hoyer still may be the quarterback next week for the Browns.
One thing was clear: Manziel flashed why he was worthy of a first-round pick against the Bills. Manziel is capable of producing electricity and he has what Pettine calls, "the it factor." The offense responded when he was the signal-caller. More importantly, he was able to find the end zone instead of forcing the Browns to settle for a field goal.
"There was a lot of excitement when he got into the game," Thomas said.
"We have two quarterbacks – it's a good problem to have," said wide receiver Andrew Hawkins. "We'll leave that in the hands of the coaches and the guys who make decisions."