CLEVELAND — Johnny Manziel’s timeout has ended. He’s starting for the Browns again.
The polarizing quarterback will play Sunday against the 49ers, returning to the lineup after being benched two games by coach Mike Pettine for defiantly partying during the team’s bye week.
The 49ers are said to have taken a look at Manziel this season, as a possible future acquisition. Here’s their opportunity to see him up close while trying to win their second straight game behind new starting quarterback Blaine Gabbert.
Pettine is giving Manziel another chance after the second-year QB broke a promise that he wouldn’t become a distraction when the team was off last month. Manziel had been named the starter for Cleveland’s final six games on Nov. 17 only to throw away the opportunity with his escapades.
He was demoted to third string, but moved up one spot last week when Josh McCown sustained a season-ending collarbone break.
Pettine feels Johnny Football has paid his dues.
“He’s been solid in the building over the last couple of weeks and we are hopeful he takes this opportunity to continue to build on the progress he’s made on the field throughout the season,” Pettine said. “The goal for every game is to go out and win, and Johnny needs to show that he can put us in position to do so during these last four weeks of the season.”
Manziel will replace Austin Davis, who started Sunday’s 37-3 embarrassing loss to Cincinnati. Davis, the 24th quarterback to start for the Browns since 1999, didn’t do anything to lose his job, but not enough to hang on to it either. The Browns lost two wide receivers to injuries against the Bengals.
The Browns have changed starting quarterbacks six times this season — this is the third time Manziel has been given the job.
Manziel’s return serves other purposes. With the Browns (2-10) on a seven-game losing streak, it distracts from the team’s many other issues and gives Cleveland fans something to hold their interest over the final weeks of another dreary season.
Before Pettine announced his decision, wide receiver Brian Hartline said he was excited by the prospect of Manziel being back in the lineup.
“He was doing some great things on the football field a couple of weeks back and I expect him to continue that level of play,” Hartline said. “It’s an added preparation for the incoming team.”
Manziel passed for a career-high 372 yards in his last start on Nov. 15 in Pittsburgh. He’s 1-2 as a starter this season, and will now have four more games to prove to the Browns that he can be their long-term answer at quarterback.
More importantly, he has to win back the trust of Pettine, other coaches and his teammates.
After facing the 49ers, the Browns travel to Seattle and Kansas City, where Manziel will face two of the noisiest crowds in the league. Cleveland hosts Pittsburgh in its season finale on Jan. 3.
Assuming Manziel starts the remaining games, Pettine believes the club will have the information it needs. The Browns currently have the No. 1 overall pick in next year’s draft and could use it on a QB if needed.
“We have to make sure that we support our quarterback,” Pettine said. “We already have a sense of where he is from a football standpoint, that he’s done some good things and he showed progress from a year ago.”
Manziel’s latest promotion continues two turbulent, drama-filled seasons in the NFL for the 2012 Heisman Trophy winner. He made more headlines with his antics outside of football last season and spent 10 weeks during the winter in a Pennsylvania rehab facility specializing in treatment for alcohol and substance abuse.
Manziel was investigated last month by the NFL following a domestic dispute involving his girlfriend. The league said it did not find any evidence that Manziel violated its personal conduct policy.
The 23-year-old is getting yet another fresh start.
It’s up to Manziel to make the most of it.