Browns coach Pettine discusses QB controversy

Coach Mike Pettine said veteran Josh McCown remained in the concussion protocol but the team should know soon if he’ll be cleared to practice Wednesday, when on-field preparation starts for Sunday’s home game against the Raiders. Until McCown is cleared, Johnny Manziel remains the starter.

“But we’ll have the ‘what-if’ discussion tonight and we’ll see where that takes us,” Pettine said Monday afternoon. McCown had been the solid No. 1 since the day he signed in February. He started the opener, but was knocked out on the first drive after a helmet-to-helmet hit.

Signs pointed to McCown returning to practice Friday, with Pettine ready to reinstall him as the starter Sunday against the Titans. But he had a setback, wasn’t cleared and Manziel got the call.

The Browns won 28-14, with Manziel going 8-for-15 for 172 yards, two touchdowns and a 133.9 rating for his first win in three career starts. It was the team’s first win since Nov. 23, snapping a six-game losing streak.

Did a single good day from Manziel change Pettine’s belief that McCown gave the team the best chance to win?

“We’re going to put it all on the table and talk about it and we’ll see where it takes us,” he said. “It’s a positive conversation because you have a young quarterback that’s been through a lot, that has gone out and led his team to a win. We were all able to enjoy it last night.”

He said, “I’m proud of him because if you had said back early in the offseason if this was going to happen, I think a lot of people would have said pretty slim chance. I’m very proud of him and the rest of the guys for putting it together and winning the home opener.”

Manziel’s breakthrough created a buzz, with many fans and media feeling the time is right to give him a second straight start. The organization would like to get an evaluation of last year’s No. 22 pick to determine the long-term plans at quarterback, but Pettine doesn’t feel pressed to do that in week three.

“We’re tasked with winning football games, and the decisions we make are what gives us the best opportunity to win this Sunday,” Pettine said. “I know that on the outside those things get brought into it. And we’ve already seen circumstances have come about for us to get an evaluation of him. We’re not going to use a season and look at it that way, say ‘hey, we need to know.’ We think over the natural course of events we’ll find out.”

Manziel’s win added layers — and minutes — to the weekly conversation Pettine has with coordinator John DeFilippo and quarterbacks coach Kevin O’Connell, as Pettine acknowledged the performance would make the discussion more interesting.

“I’d agree with that,” Pettine said. “And that’s a good thing, that’s a positive thing. Johnny’s made a lot of progress — in the right direction. Still a lot of things to get cleaned up, but we certainly feel like the arrow’s up.”

Pettine wouldn’t get into details of McCown’s recovery, but said he was at the game Sunday. He wasn’t spotted on the sideline.

Manziel only threw 15 times, and Pettine attributed the low number to conservative play calling after taking a 21-0 lead in the second quarter. He said Manziel’s recent history of elbow tendinitis wasn’t a factor, and thought the elbow was fine after 50- and 60-yard touchdown throws to Travis Benjamin that required Manziel to use all his arm strength.

“I haven’t talked to Joe (Sheehan, trainer) about Johnny’s soreness so I don’t think there’s anything significant,” Pettine said.

The difference in Manziel from last year is significant. He lost both late-season starts, going 13-for-26 for 112 yards, no touchdowns and two interceptions.

“I just think quarterback play from A to Z he’s improved in all areas in our mind,” Pettine said.

He attributed the change to Manziel’s commitment and the influence of DeFilippo and O’Connell.

Manziel opened the game with the 60-yarder to Benjamin off play-action. He sealed the win by eluding linebacker Brian Orakpo and spotting Benjamin deep downfield to restore a two-touchdown lead with 2:52 left.

“(He showed) that he can be poised under pressure,” linebacker Craig Robertson said. “Every quarterback in this league can make throws, but to be poised under pressure, that’s a great attribute for a quarterback.”

Robertson declined to offer an opinion on who should start.

“To be honest, bro, I play defense,” he said. “I have no business talking about that, I have no need to talk about that. Whatever we’ve got to do to win games, that’s what I’m all about.”

Pettine said he didn’t plan to talk to veterans for their opinion, relying solely on DeFilippo and O’Connell. They can all agree Manziel must do better hanging onto the ball. He lost two fumbles in three quarters of the opener, then fumbled twice Sunday with the Browns recovering.

“I know the one for sure he had two hands on it. He just needs to be stronger with it,” Pettine said. “But I think the other ones he was not carrying it as securely as we would want him to. Sometimes that’s just an awareness of knowing that there’s somebody around me that can swipe the ball. That cannot become his flaw. We have to get that cleaned up.”

Pettine may decide to go back to McCown if he’s available. That doesn’t mean he thinks Manziel’s solid day was an aberration.

“To me, it was an extension of the work that he’s put in,” Pettine said. “The plays that he made were plays that he made on the practice field.”

The coach isn’t worried that the conversation will turn into a controversy.

“My concern is what’s on the inside of the building,” he said. “I have no control over what’s on the outside. Our task as a coaching staff is to put together a plan and formulate our personnel to give us the best chance to win on the upcoming Sunday.”