BEREA, Ohio — Johnny Manziel stood by waiting for Josh McCown to finish his interview session before it was his turn to address the Browns’ decision to change quarterbacks.
Manziel won’t make his second straight start on Sunday, and his return to a backup role behind McCown stung deeply.
He’s on hold again.
“It’s obviously disappointing,” Manziel said Wednesday. “I’m not going to sit here and say that I love the decision.”
McCown was cleared from the NFL’s concussion protocol Wednesday after missing one game and will start this week against Oakland, moving back ahead of Manziel, who threw two touchdown passes and led the Browns to a 28-14 win over Tennessee.
Browns coach Mike Pettine considered several factors before deciding to go back to McCown, who was injured while trying to dive into the end zone on Cleveland’s opening drive this season.
But in weighing his options, Pettine reverted to the plan the team mapped out when McCown signed as a free agent in March.
“He’s done everything we’ve asked of him in the offseason and so far this year,” Pettine said. “He’d earned the right to be our starting quarterback. We feel that he gives us the best opportunity to win on Sunday. That was truly the basis for the decision. There’s a lot of exterior factors, but for coaches it’s very bottom line.”
A strong argument can be made for both quarterbacks, but the Browns (1-1) feel the 36-year-old McCown is the better option — now. He has experience, deep knowledge of Cleveland’s offense, the respect of his teammates and he performed well during a 17-play, 90-yard drive that unfortunately ended with him launching himself into the air and taking a helmet-to-helmet blow.
Manziel showed more progress and promise in his first career win. He energized his teammates and a very vocal segment of Browns fans who believe it’s time to see if the 22-year-old can become the long-term answer for a franchise missing a franchise quarterback.
Pettine recognizes there’s growing support for Manziel. But in a league where success is measured on the scoreboard, he’s making the move he believes best serves the Browns.
“This was a positive thing for us, our second quarterback went in and played well,” Pettine said. “But there was a reason we started the season with Josh as the 1 and Johnny as the 2. That was our plan, and at this point we’re not seeing a reason to deviate from it.”
In Sunday’s win, Manziel connected with wide receiver Travis Benjamin on 50- and 60-yard touchdowns, showing the big-play ability that made him a college star. And while he’ll have to wait to play again, Manziel, who went 0-2 as a starter last season, gained more confidence.
“I respect Coach Pett, and that’s the guy that makes the calls for this team,” Manziel said. “I’m going to be a team player and do what I need to do from here on out and be ready if my number’s called. I felt like I went out and did some good things. Our team needed a win, and I was the next guy up. We got the win.”
Despite his struggles as a rookie and a stint in rehab, Manziel said the Browns still have him trending toward being their full-time starter — one day.
“From everything that I’ve heard, whether our GM, our owner, that’s still the case,” he said.
McCown has empathy for Manziel. During 12 years as a pro, McCown has experienced the highs and lows of his position and understands Manziel’s disappointment.
“I’ve been on both sides,” he said. “I’ve been the guy in front with a first-rounder waiting in the wings and people waiting on that guy to play and wanting that guy to play.
“And then, I’ve been in situations where I’ve been the guy everybody wants to play. As a competitor, we wouldn’t be in our situations if he didn’t want to play, so he wouldn’t be here. I appreciate that.”
McCown was close to returning last week, but failed his baseline test and had to sit. He feels fortunate the league has guidelines in place to protect players because there was a time when he might have said, “Let’s go. Forget about the tests and everything else, let’s do it?”
As for the play on which he got hurt, McCown said if he could do it over differently, he would.
However, his competitive nature has kept him in the league, helped him endure being traded, released and benched. It’s no different when he sees the end zone.
“I think part of why I’m still around is because I don’t give up easily,” he said.