Johnny Manziel and Mike Pettine facing futures together


Sep 27, 2015; Cleveland, OH, USA; Cleveland Browns quarterback Johnny Manziel (2) watches the game alone on the end of the sidelines during the second half against the Oakland Raiders at FirstEnergy Stadium. The Raiders won 27-20. Mandatory Credit: Ken Blaze-USA TODAY Sports

Cleveland Browns quarterback Johnny Manziel may be able to save not only his future, but the future of head coach Mike Pettine over the next six weeks.

When head coach Mike Pettine turned the Cleveland Browns offense over to Johnny Manziel last season, it was a Hail Mary on a crumbling season. Despite their 7-6 record, the offensive well had run dry. Brian Hoyer had thrown seven interceptions and no touchdowns over a three-game streak. It was time to see if Manziel, worker of so many miracles at Texas A&M, could raise the dead.

There would be no miracles.

The situation is different this year. There is no season to save. At 2-8 and currently holding the No. 1 overall pick in the 2016 NFL Draft, a shot at a winning season and the playoffs is dead and buried. There is something much more important on the line: Jobs.

Pettine’s seat is getting warmer as the weeks pass, and Manziel is auditioning for 2016 and beyond. If Manziel falters over this six-game stretch, it’s likely that the Browns will pick a quarterback in the first round for the third time in four years. And it’s likely a new head coach will be calling the shots, too.

Related: Browns turning offense over to Johnny Manziel

Manziel’s rookie struggles are a well-known story by now. He was never meant to play last year, and prepared like it. When he was named the starter, it couldn’t have gone much worse. He was shutout in his first start, and then was hurt in his second. He was then fined for being late for treatment after throwing an ill-advised party the night before. He ended the year lucky to be on the roster before entering a rehab facility in the offseason.

The situation this year might have been different if Manziel had been as focussed on football in his rookie season as he has been this year, as reports from Berea have been positive regarding his work ethic. Manziel has also responded to the people around him. Offensive coordinator John DeFilippo, quarterbacks coach Kevin O’Connell and Josh McCown have created a far more welcoming quarterback room than last season’s. Brian Hoyer, embittered by not being given the deal he wanted, and offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan, embittered by not being given the quarterback he wanted, created a frosty environment that did nothing to encourage development.

If Manziel had been at this stage in his rookie year, then a clearer picture of his future, as well as that of the Browns, may have taken shape by now. His 372-yard performance on Sunday against the Pittsburgh Steelers has fostered a lot of hope about what he can become, but he might already have many days like that behind him if he had concentrated last year like he has so far in 2015. Instead, Manziel has six games to define his Browns career.

Short of winning out, Manziel’s development is one of the few things that may save Pettine’s job. The ability to develop quarterbacks is a valuable skill, and coach-quarterback relationships are absolutely key to success. Even if the Browns only win two or three more games this year, if Manziel is developing under the stewardship of Pettine and his offensive staff, it may present a compelling case for continuity.

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Pettine was intent on handing nothing to Manziel this year. Despite his previous year’s efforts, many still wanted – or even expected – Manziel to win the job over McCown coming out of training camp. Even though McCown has played beyond what anyone expected, fans have still clamored for Manziel. The cries grew louder as the season plunged deeper into the depths, but Pettine stood firm until he believed Manziel had earned it.

Slowly, but surely, Manziel has come along in increments. He looked better against the New York Jets,  then won his first career game against the Tennessee Titans, icing the game with a typical Manziel touchdown play. After the Thursday night game against the Cincinnati Bengals in which he missed some reads and bailed on the pocket too soon, he took a big step with a composed performance from the pocket on Sunday against the Steelers. Pettine said he was “proud of [Manziel]” and that he “played his ass off” against the Steelers.

There are many things that may still sink Pettine, but if Manziel can keep pushing on, he might just raise the dead this time.