Johnny Manziel's second series in his fourth preseason game was the most Manziel of drives.
After a first-play sack and fumble -- after relieving starter Brian Hoyer -- in which Manziel held the ball too low and carelessly, the madness and magic came in equal doses.
• Manziel started the drive with a wounded duck throw that would have been intercepted by any NFL-caliber defensive back. Instead, soon-to-be-cut Chicago Bears cornerback Demonte Hurst hit intended receiver Travis Benjamin instead of corralling what could have been one of the easiest interceptions of the NFL preseason.
• Manziel rolled out and hit Willie Snead, who is the perfect receiver to play with Manziel in that he's flashy and unreliable, for a nice 14-yard gain.
• After a Terrance West run, Manziel whipped one deep to an open Charles Johnson, but the throw was high and it almost got Johnson's L-5 disc knocked loose. If Manziel wasn't, you know, Manziel, Johnson would have grounds for pouring sugar in the rookie's gas tank when they leave the facility after the game.
• On third-and-10, Manziel dialed up an A&M-caliber scramble, circled the pocket like a banty rooster and came around to make a nice strike to Nate Burleson for 27 yards down to the Chicago 1. Burleson loves Manziel. It's plays like this that will stick in his, and everyone's, head.
• Manziel bootlegged off a nice hard stretch fake and found Jim Dray in the back of the end zone for the 1-yard score.
Manziel is not ready. But he's ready for the moment.
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The crowd alternately groaned and ate it up. But leaving the stadium, what do you think they're going to remember from Thursday night?
That's why some Browns fans secretly (or maybe openly) will be rooting against the hometown hero, Mr. 3-0 in 2013, Hoyer, just for the chance to see what Manziel can — or can't — do. It's obvious when you watch Manziel that he's two or three years away from mastering this or any other NFL offense, but it almost doesn't matter when you consider how fearless he is.
At some point, Hoyer is going to flat-line the heck out of his offense, and Manziel will take over. Week 5, Week 7, whenever it is — rookie head coach Mike Pettine will be compelled to turn the stick shift over to Manziel, even though he'll know the rookie is not "ready" by any traditional definition of the word.
With Manziel, the Browns will be in games they don't deserve to be. And he'll play them out of games the Browns should win.
Thursday proved that. He led a few promising drives and made some eye-opening plays, far more than he did in the previous three preseason games combined. But he also peppered the game with some real ugly ones, too — we're talking Tebow-esque stuff.
But like with Tim Tebow, throw the stats into the garbage. They're always going to be somewhat irrelevant in that they just can't tell the full story.
Oh sure, simply looking at a Peyton Manning stat line won't show you the time he checked to a run or avoided a sack by throwing hot, or out of bounds. But you can see a 33-for-42, 391-yard, four-TD stat line and know exactly what that might look like.
With Manziel, he could have a 13-for-24, 186-yard, two-INT game he wins and a 30-for-44, 336-yard, three-TD game he loses. It's the six-second scramble and sidearm throw for seven yards on 3rd and 6 that will make you just shrug.
Thursday's Manziel stat line was laughable: 6-of-17 passing, 83 yards, one TD passing, plus four rushes for 55 yards. It's Johnny, and we're going to enjoy the ride. His 6-for-17 was twice as fun as Hoyer's 6-for-8, no matter what the coaches might say.
Manziel is going to play this season, and it's not going to be a terribly long wait. Frankly, Hoyer doesn't have a chance. Pettine just couldn't justify starting Manziel after his sub-par preseason. The public hadn't yet seen the ripples of mad genius that he was starting to display in practice as a starting decision drew near. So Pettine did what he had to: he tabled the inevitable (smartly) until a little of the wild hype subsided and Manziel could keep absorbing this scheme from a book.
Remember this feeling? You'll have it again soon. This pressure will be too great to do anything but put Manziel back on the field when the games count.
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