All week, the Cleveland Browns told fans and media the same thing.
With skepticism thrown their way after benching Johnny Manziel, fresh off the first win of his career, the Browns kept saying they were going back to Josh McCown at quarterback because he “gave them the best chance to win.” The 36-year-old career backup was still seen as the top choice at starter despite Manziel pumping life into a Cleveland fan base sick and tired of seeing the same old futility on a weekly basis.
Personally, I felt Manziel should’ve stayed in, but I also believed the Browns seemed to have solid reasoning for going back to McCown. Manziel still had things he needed to improve, and if the team as a whole felt safer with McCown under center, so be it.
However, when a game like today’s takes place, an embarrassing 27-20 loss to the Oakland Raiders which looks way closer on the scoreboard than it did on the field, I find myself not feeling bad for Cleveland at all. McCown couldn’t get the job done, and the team will be a lightning rod for criticism all week because of it. Unfortunately for the Browns, they invited this criticism upon themselves the second they handed the reins back to McCown.
Now, it needs to be said McCown was able to string together a would-be rally late in today’s defeat. Cleveland cut a 17-point deficit down to seven and had a chance to tie the game late. However, McCown was picked off trying to hit Travis Benjamin deep in Oakland territory, and that was all she wrote.
McCown ended the day with 341 yards and two touchdowns, along with the backbreaking interception. Though this doesn’t look terrible on paper, it took forever for the veteran QB to get going, and much of the yardage he gained was a result of the Raiders easing up on defense after grabbing a comfortable lead. McCown also missed open receivers often, and clearly didn’t have the arm strength to hit deep routes. Overall, it took until midway through the third quarter for Cleveland’s offense to finally starting looking remotely functional.
Again, you can’t help but go back to what coach Mike Pettine claimed throughout the week. The Browns apparently felt they had a better shot at winning if McCown started. Unfortunately for Pettine, these are the kinds of things which get thrown back in your face when your offense doesn’t get going until it’s down 20-3.
Of course, today’s loss isn’t entirely on McCown. Cleveland’s defense was an absolute atrocity, and there isn’t a single player on said unit who shouldn’t feel embarrassed about the performance today. Oakland came into today’s game with 160 total rushing yards on the season, and almost eclipsed said total after gaining 155 yards on the ground against the supposedly revamped Cleveland defense. Sure, McCown struggled, but he’s hardly the only goat of this game.
As we know, though, this is Cleveland, where it always comes back to the QB.
Say what you want about McCown getting his game together late. At the same time, you can’t ignore the fact he makes the offense one dimensional. No defense is ever going to be afraid of him beating you over the top, so they’ll stack the box to limit the running attack and short passes. It’s what happened today, and it’ll likely happen again next week.
Make no mistake, McCown is not the answer for Cleveland, but you better believe he’ll be back under center next week and for the foreseeable future. The team put its money down on him, and is likely going to ride on this as long as possible. You can yell “Johnny, Johnny” all you want, but unless McCown gets hurt, get used to shots of Manziel on the bench for quite some time.
If Pettine and the rest of the Browns think the skepticism is bad today, wait ‘til the losses start piling up (an inevitability looking at the team’s upcoming schedule). The calls for Manziel will grow by the week, as will the overanalyzing of every mistake McCown makes. Don’t be surprised, though, if Cleveland continues to resist making a switch just as it did today.
McCown reportedly gave the Browns the best chance to win, and responded by throwing a potential victory right to Oakland’s secondary with the game on the line. This is who the Browns decided to ride with, and in doing so, they deserve every bit of criticism that comes their way.