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NFL morning after: It’s time for Johnny Football


Browns coach Mike Pettine made a mistake on Sunday that might cost his team a playoff berth.

Pettine decided to stick with quarterback Brian Hoyer against the Colts instead of switching to rookie Johnny Manziel. The result was disastrous: Hoyer completed just 14 of 31 passes for 140 yards, with no touchdowns and two interceptions, and the Browns lost 25-24. The Browns got great play from their defense (forcing four turnovers and scoring two defensive touchdowns) and from their running game (running backs Terrance West and Isaiah Crowell combined for 108 yards), and Cleveland would have won this game if the Browns had even adequate play from their quarterback.

Instead, they got a lousy game from Hoyer, and they lost.

Would Manziel have been better? Obviously, we can’t say for certain. We haven’t seen enough of him to say for sure what kind of NFL quarterback he is. But we do know that a week earlier Hoyer was benched for Manziel, and the result was that Manziel instantly marched the Browns’ offense down the field on an 80-yard drive that ended with Manziel scoring a touchdown. Pettine should have benched Hoyer on Sunday against the Colts, but Pettine insisted afterward that he never thought about calling for Manziel.

“Did not consider a change during the game,” Pettine said.

That’s a shame, but it’s not a surprise. Coaches, by their nature, are risk-averse. Nearly every NFL coach would rather go with a bland veteran pocket passer than a flashy rookie who’s as likely to make plays with his feet as with his arm. Talented young players like Manziel get drafted in the first round because they have a higher upside than guys like Hoyer, but conservative coaches stick with the “safe” guys like Hoyer for as long as they possibly can.

Pettine stuck with Hoyer for too long. He should go to Johnny Football this week, and he shouldn’t look back. Unfortunately, Sunday’s loss dropped the Browns into last place in the AFC North, and there’s probably no amount of Manziel Magic that can get Cleveland into the playoffs. Pettine missed his best chance to get his team to the playoffs when he waited too long to make a change at quarterback.

Here are my other thoughts from Sunday’s games:

I love fat guy touchdowns. Raiders offensive tackle Donald Penn caught a touchdown pass on a tackle-eligible trick play on Sunday against the 49ers, and it was the third time in his career he’s done that. Listed at 340 pounds, Penn is the heaviest player in NFL history to record three career receiving touchdowns.

Bonus fat guy touchdown info. As long as we’re talking fat guy touchdowns, let’s mention that the Giants’ 303-pound defensive tackle Markus Kuhn scored a touchdown on a fumble recovery on Sunday. According to ESPN, there have now been five 300-pounders to score touchdowns this season: Penn, Kuhn, Colts offensive lineman Anthony Castonzo, Eagles defensive end Cedric Thornton and Eagles defensive end Fletcher Cox. And here’s a fun fact: At 290 pounds, J.J. Watt is the heaviest player in NFL history to score five touchdowns in a season. (The previous record for heaviest player to score five touchdowns was held by 280-pound tight end Eric Green.)

Jeff Fisher trolls Washington. I loved Fisher’s decision to name as his captains on Sunday in Washington the six players the Rams got when they fleeced Washington for the draft pick that became Robert Griffin III. With the picks they got from Washington, the Rams acquired Janoris Jenkins, Michael Brockers, Zac Stacy, Stedman Bailey, Greg Robinson and Alec Ogletree. So those were the Rams’ captains in Sunday’s win at Washington.

Steelers made a statement. That was a big 42-21 win for Pittsburgh on Sunday in Cincinnati. If they had lost, they would have been all but out of it, but now the Steelers control their road to the playoffs. The Bengals are still in first place right now, but if both the Steelers and the Bengals win their next two games, the division will be decided when they meet again in Pittsburgh in Week 17.

Le’Veon Bell is great. Although DeMarco Murray is getting more attention, a strong case can be made Pittsburgh’s Bell is the best running back in the NFL right now. Bell had 185 rushing yards and 50 receiving yards yesterday, his third straight game with at least 200 yards from scrimmage. Walter Payton is the only other player in NFL history with three straight games of 200 yards from scrimmage.

What’s wrong with Peyton Manning? The Broncos have won two straight games, but Manning doesn’t look like himself. In Sunday’s win over the Bills he completed 14 of 20 passes for 173 yards, with no touchdowns and two interceptions. His passer rating of 56.9 was his lowest in any game since 2008, and he’s failed to reach 200 yards in the last two weeks -- his first back-to-back games of less than 200 yards since Weeks 16 and 17 of the 2009 season, when his Colts had already clinched home-field advantage throughout the playoffs and were resting their starters. I don’t know if Manning is hurt or what, but he doesn’t look like himself lately. Fortunately for the Broncos, they’re winning with their defense and running game anyway.

The Trent Richardson trade remains a disaster for the Colts. Richardson gained just 30 rushing yards yesterday, and he also missed a blitz pickup on a big fourth-quarter play, resulting in Andrew Luck getting sacked. In 28 games as a Colt, Richardson now has 904 yards, or 32.3 yards a game. He’s just not good enough, and the Colts threw away a first-round pick when they traded for him. Yes, the Colts managed to win on Sunday despite Richardson’s bad game, but that was mostly because Brian Hoyer handed them the game. The Browns made a great trade when they fleeced the Colts for a first-round pick in the Richardson trade. The Browns ended up using the Colts’ pick to move up in the first round and draft Manziel.