Johnny Manziel takes over at QB

ByJEREMY FOWLER
November 30, 2014, 4:14 PM

— -- ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. -- The Johnny Manziel era has begun in earnest -- and there might be no turning back.

Manziel finally got his chance to play significant NFL snaps when the Cleveland Browns benched Brian Hoyer early in the fourth quarter of Sunday's 26-10 loss to the Buffalo Bills.

On his first drive, Manziel led the Browns 80 yards on eight plays and flashed his signature money signs from the end zone after a diving 10-yard touchdown run.

Manziel played well enough to force the Browns into a critical decision about the future of the quarterback position in Cleveland, one that could give Manziel his first NFL start at home Sunday against the Indianapolis Colts.

"If that is the case and my name is called, then I'll definitely be ready," said Manziel, who completed 5 of 8 passes for 63 yards, including completions on his first two attempts beyond 15 yards.

After entering the game with about 12 minutes left, Manziel completed three of his first four passes for 54 yards, leading the Browns to their only touchdown drive of the day with 8:54 remaining. Hoyer left the game after his second interception led to a field goal for the Bills, who took a 20-3 lead.

Browns coach Mike Pettine said the team will make an official decision on whether to start Manziel or Hoyer by Wednesday.

Pettine still wants to evaluate Manziel's performance but knows "it's a bottom-line business. (Manziel's) task was to move us down the field -- he did and did a good job."

Going back to Hoyer wouldn't be difficult, said Pettine, who wants to return to Cleveland, a less emotional environment, to make a measured decision.

Benching Hoyer was the move Pettine didn't want to make in past weeks, but the reality is Hoyer has thrown one touchdown and six interceptions in his last four games, including zero touchdowns and five picks in his last two. Hoyer completed 50.8 percent of his passes (61-of-120) in the last three weeks and finished with a 51.0 passer rating Sunday, completing 18 of 30 passes with zero touchdowns.

"It's always a cumulative, body-of-work decision, so we'll get through the tape and put it all out there on the table and make a decision that best fits the team," Pettine said.

Manziel trusts his coach's decision-making, saying Pettine has placed the Browns "in the right situation throughout the entire year. I don't see that changing any time moving forward."

Hoyer, who's 7-5 as the Browns' starter this season, said he believes he can lead Cleveland to the playoffs and was shocked by the benching.

"This is my team, and I've always felt that way, so we'll see what happens," Hoyer said.

After Hoyer's interception to safety Da'Norris Searcy with 12:59 left, Manziel huddled with offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan and began tossing footballs with wide receiver Miles Austin from the sideline. On the field, Shanahan gave Manziel play-action rollouts to get him comfortable. Manziel capitalized with completions to Austin (12 yards), Josh Gordon (18 yards) and Jim Dray (24 yards).

Manziel's second drive, with the Browns down 23-10, didn't end so well. He dropped a shotgun snap on third down, then got sacked by Kyle Williams on an initial fumble ruling that was overturned. Manziel thought about throwing the ball but tried to tuck it as Williams approached, then lost the ball in the end zone and the Bills recovered.

Officials ruled it was an incompletion. Manziel wasn't so sure.

"As the ball goes behind you in the end zone and you're the deepest guy on the field, you know it's all downhill from there," Manziel said.

And the Browns hope it's uphill with Manziel, if he's the guy.

"If it's Johnny, I hope he leads us to a lot of victories," left tackle Joe Thomas said. "When he got in there, we knew he'd be prepared."

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