CLEVELAND (AP) — Go, Johnny.
Browns rookie quarterback Johnny Manziel will make his first NFL start on Sunday against Cincinnati, replacing the slumping Brian Hoyer as Cleveland tries to pump life into its sagging playoff hopes.
Manziel, one of college football’s most captivating players, is getting his shot with three games left in a season he has spent as Hoyer’s backup on the sideline. Browns coach Mike Pettine made the switch after meeting with his staff and general manager Ray Farmer, then informing both quarterbacks. Pettine hinted Monday he was leaning toward Manziel, a decision many Browns fans have wanted for weeks.
Manziel’s debut start will come in Cleveland’s final home game. He’ll have three games to show the Browns if he can be the franchise quarterback they’ve coveted for two decades.
Manziel is the Browns’ 21st starting quarterback since 1999.
Even before Manziel was told he’ll start, the possibility sparked some controversy with Bengals coach Marvin Lewis calling the 6-footer “a midget” on Monday night. Lewis later apologized, but the jab stirred up the Ohio rivalry.
Hoyer has been awful in his last four games, throwing just one touchdown pass and eight interceptions. It hasn’t been all Hoyer’s fault as teammates have dropped passes and run pass routes incorrectly, but Cleveland needs a spark.
Pettine considered the switch a week ago but stuck with Hoyer, who has gone 10-6 as Cleveland’s starter. Hoyer had two interceptions on Sunday in a 25-24 loss to the Indianapolis Colts, who rallied from a 14-point deficit in the third quarter. The Browns’ offense couldn’t get anything going in the second half behind Hoyer, picking up just three first downs.
Manziel’s promotion could signal the end of Hoyer’s time with the Browns. A Cleveland-area kid who grew up attending Browns games with his dad, Hoyer, who battled back from a season-ending knee injury in 2013, is in the final year of his contract. With Manziel around, it’s likely Hoyer will have to sign elsewhere if he wants to remain a starter.
The No. 22 overall pick in this year’s draft, the popular and polarizing Manziel has been on the field just 18 plays this season. He came off the bench two weeks ago in the fourth quarter for Hoyer at Buffalo completed 5 of 8 passes and scored on a 10-yard touchdown run.
Manziel won the Heisman Trophy at Texas A&M, where his ability to improvise made him a star and earned him his Johnny Football nickname.
The Browns are hoping he can perform some of that magic on Sundays.
Manziel couldn’t beat out Hoyer during training camp and the 22-year-old’s off-the-field behavior, which included weekend trips to Las Vegas, led to outside criticism of his maturity and commitment. The Browns held off on playing him until they felt he was ready, and now Pettine has put the team’s season in Manziel’s hands.
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