Johnny Manziel had just been yanked to the ground by his facemask, as the ball bounced towards the back wall and the yellow flags flew.
Knowing that the play would result in a first down for the Browns, Manziel hopped up and immediately made movements with his hands, signaling that the ball was moving in a favorable direction.
The signals weren’t subtle. In fact, they were rather recognizable, as it seemed that Manziel made it a point to show everyone in the stadium that the ball was headed in the direction that his handes so clearly indicated.
The multiple movements, along with a one-hundred dollar bill that the quarterback signed “Money Manziel” for a fan before the game, might’ve signaled that Manziel’s moxie— the very moxie that earned him said nickname— is back.
After throwing for 270 yards and a touchdown in Cleveland’s 24-10 win on Sunday, Manziel seemed much more confident in himself and seemed to instill confidence in the man responsible for his two-week timeout for a violation of trust earlier this season.
“I thought it was a solid performance,” Browns coach Mike Pettine said. “He made good decisions. He was accurate with the football. When he could stay in the pocket, he did and made plays. There were times, we all saw, where he has that special ability to extend the play and was able to do that numerous times with solid success. Overall, I think it was a good day for him.”
Though Manziel threw for 102 more yards in a loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers in November than he did on Sunday against San Francisco, his latest performance might have been his best as a professonal.
If it was his best effort for the Browns thus far, it wasn't always what he did with the football that made his play so impressive.
“He was in great command of the huddle. I thought he had a great sense of the plan and how they were playing us and making in-game adjustments,” Pettine said. “We had a lot of stuff that he had to orchestrate to get us in the right run and I thought he did a good job of that and I think that kind of goes unnoticed”
Unlike the nuances associated with running an offense, the on-field strides that Manziel has made this season have been quite noticeable, even with all of the off-field issues he’s dealt with this season.
Some of those off-field issues caused Manziel to lose the trust of Pettine and might’ve upset his peers in the locker room.
He’s never played with Manziel, but former Patriots defensive back Rodney Harrison would’ve been one of those upset teammates, as he said on NBC that he wouldn’t trust the quarterback and wouldn’t want to take the field with him Sunday after Sunday.
Pettine has consistently disciplined Manziel with what he refers to as "tough love," but defended the quarterback from the criticisms of someone who has no place in the team’s locker room.
“Talk to a guy that's in the locker room like Gary Barnidge, who sees how (Manziel) prepares, who sees how he is on the practice field, sees the noticeable difference from a year ago, the improvement there, the commitment, the dedication, the wanting to get it right, making sure that the details are right,” Pettine said, when asked about Harrison’s comments. “It’s hard for me to really lend any credence to any opinions that are outside of our locker room.”
He might've told the media to ask Barnidge about Manziel, but Pettine himself answered a question about the quarterback’s work ethic and wasn't shy in his praise.
“He grinds in the meeting room. He asks great questions. He brings up good points,” Pettine said. “(He’s) a guy that’s competitive, that wants to win, goes out and works hard on the practice field and it carried over into the game.”
Pettine feels too that Manziel’s preparation has endeared him to his teammates, who feed off of his energy, rather than focusing on his off-field frolicking.
“They see him in game, in the huddle, his presence and what he’s been able to do. That gets our guys going,” Pettine said. “When they see him frustrated after throwing a boneheaded interception and get after himself a little bit, there’s some respect there because they see how competitive he is.”
With three games left to play, Manziel will need to continue his persistent preparation, especially having to head to Seattle for a battle with the Seahawks this coming week.
The task will be a tough one for Manziel and for the Browns as a whole, but Pettine seems to believe there’s no reason that things can continue to climb for Manziel, for the offense and for the Browns as a whole.
“We know this is a formidable opponent in one of the most hostile environments in the league. We’re going to go up there and cut it loose,” Pettine said, when asked what Manziel has to show going forward. “It starts with this week. We’re going to have a great deal of respect for them, but we’re not going to be intimidated by them. We’re going to plan to travel out there and play a good football game.”
For all of your Browns news and updates from Berea, follow Hayden Grove on Twitter: @H_Grove.