Johnny Manziel's Very Public Pantsing - Rolling Stone
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Johnny Manziel’s Very Public Pantsing

Was Johnny Football set up to fail in his first start? It’s not as crazy as you might think

Johnny ManzielJohnny Manziel

Johnny Manziel gets tackled by Carlos Dunlap of the Cincinnati Bengals on Sunday.

Joe Robbins/Getty Images

The beauty of the carefully crafted comeuppance is that it seems to happen naturally, randomly. But done right, it is anything but. At its best, it’s a takedown, really. A shift in power.

Why is that important? Because power is everything, particularly in the NFL. And sometimes you’ve got to reclaim it from a brash young talent who hasn’t done a thing, yet is constantly being told how great he is. You have to earn the right to be a cocky SOB. And if you don’t? Then the Cincinnati Bengals will kick your butt and make fun of you. The media will mock you and call you Johnny Forgettable and Johnny B. No Good and stuff like that.

Yes, Johnny Manziel was terrible Sunday. But the mistake everyone is making is thinking it was the Bengals who gave Manziel his comeuppance. Wrong, wrong, wrong. This was the work of Cleveland coach Mike Pettine. He pantsed Manziel in public. Intentionally.

I have no proof. But I recognize genius when I see it. Before the game, Boomer Esiason said on CBS’ The NFL Today that Pettine should have his head examined for starting Manziel. Others have called starting Manziel in such a big game one of the dumbest coaching moves ever. Nobody seems to recognize how perfect the timing was or how obvious the goals were.

Manziel threw for just 80 yards and two interceptions. The team managed five first downs in the game, two of which came via penalties on the Bengals’ defense. On one interception, Manziel basically did everything wrong, not planting, throwing across his body and floating the ball to the middle of the field. His arm looked weak. His timing was off. The Bengals kept mocking him by making that money sign. And the Browns lost 30-0. In other words: mission accomplished.

Pettine’s postgame comments were a dead giveaway. He wouldn’t commit to Manziel’s future after this season, saying, “There will be question marks. He could hit it out of the park in the next two [games] and there’ll still be doubts.” He spoke of his rookie QB being “humbled” by the Bengals, and gave him only the most begrudging of endorsements: “We’re going to move forward with him as our quarterback.”

These are not the things you say about your first-round draft pick after his first start.

But what was the point of sticking it to his own guy? First off, Pettine had to start Manziel over Brian Hoyer. The Browns needed to win all three of their remaining games to make the playoffs. Hoyer is a backup who was having a career year, but in the past few games, he was reverting back to form. No way Pettine could have afforded to lose Sunday with Hoyer at the helm. These quarterback decisions weigh heavily on a coach’s job security.

Meanwhile, the Cleveland faithful seemed to think they had the NFL’s LeBron James on their hands. You believe the cocky kid when he’s yours. You overlook the obvious flaws. It’s not just Manziel that needed a takedown. It was his fans, too. 

To his credit, Manziel hasn’t been nearly as loud as he was in college. Still, in the past few weeks his girlfriend was tweeting that he should play more, he was involved in some sort of late-night skirmish with a fan that apparently wasn’t his fault and there were rumors he had been slacking off. In a way, it reminds me of the situation in Denver a few years ago, when Broncos coach John Fox and his boss John Elway were trying to figure out how to get rid of Tim Tebow when everyone around them was Tebowing.

Fox and Elway didn’t think Tebow could play. So they tried to pants him, too, just to show his fans what he was really about. And Tebow did stink for roughly 55 minutes a game, but then kept pulling out miracle wins that convinced his fans he had a direct connection to God. The mania grew. Finally, Fox and Elway took the hit with the fans anyway and dumped Tebow off on New York. It wasn’t a popular move, but it was the right one for the franchise. Especially since they brought in Peyton Manning to replace him.

Pettine wants his own Peyton Manning. Or he at least wants to use a first-round pick on a QB. So if there were some miraculous chance that Manziel would’ve done well in his first start, then that would have been fine. If not, as Pettine surely expected, then that was fine too. He had almost nothing to lose.

Is it crazy to suggest some massive conspiracy was afoot? Sure, but consider this: All of a sudden, Cleveland’s Johnny Football problem as disappeared. Genius.

In This Article: NFL, sports


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