CLEVELAND — Johnny Football’s days as a backup are over this season.
He’s getting his chance to start.
Rookie quarterback Johnny Manziel will make his first NFL start Sunday against the Cincinnati Bengals, replacing the slumping Brian Hoyer as Cleveland tries to pump life into its sagging playoff hopes.
Browns coach Mike Pettine made the expected switch Tuesday after meeting with his staff and general manager Ray Farmer, then informing both quarterbacks.
Pettine said in a statement that the switch isn’t about Hoyer or Manziel, but about the Browns.
“We are trying to get the offense to perform at a higher level,” he said. “Johnny has worked very hard to earn this opportunity, and it will be very important for every member of the offense to elevate their play for us to obtain our desired result.”
Manziel’s debut start will come in Cleveland’s final home game, against a Bengals team Hoyer beat on Nov. 6. Manziel will try to show the Browns he can be the franchise quarterback they’ve coveted for two decades.
“I’ve tried to spend my entire season learning what it takes to become a pro, and it’s been great to watch Brian because he knows what it takes,” Manziel said. “I’ve prepared every week to be ready to help the team however possible, and my focus has been on improving every day.”
Even before Manziel was told he’ll start, the possibility sparked some controversy with Bengals coach Marvin Lewis calling the 6-footer “a midget” during a radio interview Monday night. Lewis later apologized, but the jab stirred the Ohio rivalry.
Pettine considered the switch a week ago but stuck with Hoyer, who has gone 10-6 as Cleveland’s starter. Hoyer had two interceptions Sunday as the Indianapolis Colts rallied from a 14-point deficit in the third quarter to win. Hoyer and the Browns’ offense picked up only three first downs in the second half.
“Although I am disappointed by coach’s decision, I respect him and his choice and will be there to support Johnny,” Hoyer said. “As always, I will do whatever I can to help this team win.”
Thumbnail photo via Kevin Hoffman/USA TODAY Sports Images