ESPN Cleveland - Cleveland Browns, 850 AM & 1540 AM
ESPN Cleveland - Ohion State, 850 AM & 1540 AM
  • Page 1 of 305
  • 1
  • 2
  • 3
  • ...
  • »
  • »»

Will Johnny come marching in again before the end of the 2015 season?

Nov 25, 2015 -- 4:14pm

By Tony Grossi |


Photo/Instagram - igiveyoumore

Extra Points …

Not gone, or forgotten: Don’t write off seeing Johnny Manziel on the field again this season.

Coach Mike Pettine wouldn’t rule it out.

The day after demoting Manziel to third-string – which came one week after naming him the full-time starter – Pettine kept the door ajar for Manziel to make one more triumphant return to the field, if needed.

“It is the short term,” Pettine said of Manziel’s demotion. “Things can change. I think a lot of it, too, is what I just talked about. How does it get handled? Last week, we made him the starter for the rest of the season. We all saw how quickly that changed. The NFL landscape is obviously a very fluid one.”

Pettine would not even say whether Josh McCown, who is re-energized after The Bye Week That Was, would hold the starting job for the remainder of the season.

“Josh McCown is our starter,” Pettine said. “Austin Davis is our two. Johnny is our three. I won’t speak beyond that right now. Things can change. As far as declaring a starter for the rest of the year, we will see how this plays out in the short term.”

And so it goes.

More on The Decision: Pettine said the final straw in Manziel’s demotion was that he “violated the trust” with his bye-week antics in Austin, TX., after the coaches gave him the starting job.

“The position of quarterback is always going to be held to a higher standard than any other position on the team,” Pettine said. “That is the reality. It is not just about talent. It is not just about what you do on the field.

“To be successful at the position requires a great understanding of what is involved in the non-physical aspects – the leadership, the trust, the accountability, responsibility, the diligence. You have to take the mentality that no one is going to outwork you. That has to be understood when you play the position at this level.

“When you have a great opportunity in front of you, it is important that you demonstrate that you can handle the responsibility that comes with it. I can’t emphasize enough the importance of the trust and the accountability piece. This is where we had an obvious shortcoming.”

Pettine stressed again that owner Jimmy Haslam and GM Ray Farmer supported the decision “wholeheartedly.”

“As I said yesterday, everyone in this organization wants what is best for Johnny,” Pettine said. “He has shown tremendous improvement, but he has to make better decisions. We are going to continue to support him, help him and coach him in every way possible to get him where he needs to be. This is a decision that I know, for him in particular, stings in the short term but feel it is an absolutely necessary to maximize his chance for future success.”

Player reaction: Pettine said he didn’t want to “pile on” Manziel by breaking the news in a full team meeting setting. So how did he do it?

Receiver Brian Hartline said, “He pulled a group of the leadership council together and told us. I think that was sufficient.”

Hartline said the locker room “absolutely” understands the decision. He was asked if some players questioned whether the demotion was justified, as many fans seem to think.

“Why do the fans think that?” Hartline said. “No one ever said he couldn’t (have fun on the bye week). You’re talking about something you don’t know all the facts to and you are making a lot of assumptions. How we handle our business and how we go about things is on us. We stand behind the coach and the decisions.”

Left tackle Joe Thomas said, “I’ll let coach Pettine dig in to the justification. I think it’s probably more than what you see on the surface from TMZ report, or whatever report. We support Coach’s decision and I’ll let him dig into the details of why he made the decision.”

What about Davis?: Davis, who earned a two-year contract extension from the Browns without ever taking a snap with the No. 1 offense – not even in practice – is now one snap away from making an appearance in a game .

Davis last appeared in an NFL game on Nov. 20 of last year with the St. Louis Rams.

“Absolutely (I want to play),” Davis said. “You don’t play the game not to play. But at the same time, I want Josh to stay healthy and play well. The environment of the quarterback room works better when you root for one another and you hope the other guys play well. That’s how I approach it.”

Davis, who was 3-5 with the Rams as an emergency starter in 2014, has soaked up the Browns’ offense since joining them on Sept. 7. He signed a two-year contract extension on Sept. 30.

“I feel good with what we’re doing,” Davis said. “I’ve been here long enough to have an understanding of what we’re doing.

“I’ve never switched teams before, never tried to learn a new offense. You don’t have to be around long to figure out that circumstances change and you kind of have to be ready for everything. You just have to stay in your lane, do your job and let the other stuff roll off your back. That’s how you have to deal with it.”


Tony Grossi covers the Browns for ESPN 850 WKNR, ESPN 1540 KNR2 and

He has covered the Browns with distinction since 1984 and is one of 46 voters for the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Use the hashtag #HeyTony on Twitter or email your “Hey Tony” questions to

Follow Tony on Twitter @tonygrossi




Johnny Manziel demoted to third string after weekend of partying

Nov 24, 2015 -- 2:13pm

By Tony Grossi |


The Morning Kickoff...

Updated at 4:21 p.m.

Johnny Manziel has been sacked by his own team.

One week after being given the starting quarterback job for the remainder of the season, Manziel was demoted to No. 3 as discipline for a weekend of partying that was captured on Instagram and made the rounds on the Internet.

Coach Mike Pettine made the announcement about two hours after he expressed disappointment and frustration with Manziel’s weekend adventures in Austin, TX, after Tuesday’s practice.

Pettine said he would meet with coaches and Manziel before making a decision about his playing status for the “Monday Night Football” meeting in FirstEnergy Stadium against the rival Baltimore Ravens.

At about 4 o’clock, the team issued the following statement attributed to Pettine:

“Josh McCown will be the starting quarterback on Monday night against the Ravens. I informed the quarterbacks of that decision after I sat down and spoke with Johnny, Flip (John DeFilippo) and Kevin (O’Connell) after practice today. Johnny will be the third quarterback. I’ve spoken to Ray (Farmer) and Jimmy (Haslam) to inform them of my decision, and they are in full support.

“Everyone in this organization wants what is best for Johnny just like we do for every player in our locker room. I’m especially disappointed in his actions and behavior because he has been working very hard. The improvements from last year to this year have been tremendous but he still has to consistently demonstrate that he has gained a good understanding of what it takes to be successful at the quarterback position on this level. It goes well beyond the field. We are going to continue to support him in every way possible, but at this point, we’ve decided it’s best to go with Josh as the starter going forward.”

Based on the statement, Austin Davis will serve as the backup quarterback Monday night when the Browns try to snap a five-game losing streak. It is not clear whether Manziel will be active for the Browns’ first MNF appearance since 2009.

Earlier in the day, Pettine declared McCown healthy to play. McCown missed the previous two games with sore ribs. Manziel was the starting quarterback in losses of 31-10 to the Cincinnati Bengals and 30-9 to the Pittsburgh Steelers.

Manziel’s individual performances in those losses were good enough in Pettine’s mind to turn over the team to him and see how far he could grow in the final six games. But he cautioned when making the announcement, “To whom much is given, much is expected.”

In Manziel’s exit interview with Pettine before the five-day bye break, the two talked about making the right choices off the field. Manziel said, “I let him know I’m not going to do anything that’s going to be a distraction to this team or be an embarrassment to the organization.”

Swiftly after departing Cleveland last Wednesday, images surfaced of Manziel dancing at a nightclub in Austin, TX, while holding a bottle of champagne and mouthing words to a song riddled with X-rated words.

“In general, one thing you do get frustrated about, where the disappointment comes in, you have a vision of what you want the team to look like, how you want them to handle themselves when they’re out of the building,” Pettine said.

“We talk a lot about it, not just in team meetings, but it gets carried out in position room, that it’s truly player development on and off the field. So when things like this happen, when a guy knows that he represents more than himself and has issues off the field, it is frustrating.

“We always say, to whom much is given, much is expected. That’s true for all of our players.”

Prior to the news becoming official, McCown looked refreshed and energized by the time off during the bye week. When he departed last Wednesday, McCown was uncharacteristically short with reporters. He apologized for that on Tuesday, saying, “I think it just kind of adds up and I hate that somebody had to see that.”

McCown threw for a Browns regular-season record 457 yards in the 33-30 overtime victory over the Ravens on Oct. 11. It was McCown’s only win with the Browns and the team’s last victory; they are 2-8 after five losses in a row.

McCown, who has embraced the role of Manziel’s mentor and friend, expressed frustration but was supportive of Manziel and sympathetic to his evident problem in staying in line.

“My hope for him is whatever those choices he makes are healthy choices and are good for him as a person,” McCown said. “When you spend as much time as we do together, there’s a connection there. You want to see people move outside the walls to make good choices and healthy decisions. If that doesn’t happen, a part of you goes, ‘Man, is there something I can do? What else can I do to help?’ So I guess that’s my mindset. Rethink that plan of attack.

“You spend that time with somebody, there’s genuine concern. It’s not just Johnny. It’s everybody. We’re in this thing together. I desire for every guy to have a good healthy life outside of this building. If it doesn’t seem like that’s the case, I think as a teammate, just like I’d do with any close friend, how can I serve him? How can I help him?”

McCown acknowledged it would “absolutely” be a blow to Manziel if he would lose the starting opportunity just handed to him.

“I‘ve said before, he’s done everything they’ve asked as far as in the meetings, attentive, studying, trying to improve as a quarterback. I think we’ve seen it, everybody would agree.

“There’s obviously things away from the facility that people aren’t pleased with and need to get cleaned up, and I think it’s a work in progress. I always see and believe the good in people. There’s some youth involved in some of the decision making that may not be the best but I certainly don’t count him out, by any stretch.

“Absolutely, it would be tough for a young player (to lose the job now). That’s hard to swallow, for sure. We’ll work through it. If that’s the case. Like I said, I’m behind the guy 100 percent.”

Manziel was not available in the open locker room period on Tuesday. At a club food charity even on Monday, Manziel acknowledged he was in Austin over the weekend but would not confirm that the video and photos of him were recent.

Some teammates were just reading Pettine’s comments on Twitter when media entered the locker room.

“I showed up today expecting a normal week,” said guard John Greco. “And I’m going in expecting there is no change. This is the first I’m hearing about it.

“I don’t think it’ll be (a disruption) either way. Still the mission is to try and turn this thing around, get as many wins as we can. It’s not going to fall on the shoulders of one guy. It’s going to be all of us, the whole team. So we’ve got to do what we’ve got to do.”

Cornerback Tramon Williams would not speak specifically on Manziel’s incident, he said, because he had not seen the video or photos.

But he offered some sage advice in general.

“I think anybody in this league has a responsibility,” Williams said. “Anything that we do will be scrutinized, from the last player on the roster to the star on the roster. Obviously the star will be in a little bit more spotlight, no doubt about it. So you do have to watch what you do, when you do it, who you’re around when you do it. It’s just common sense, really.”


Tony Grossi covers the Browns for ESPN 850 WKNR, ESPN 1540 KNR2 and

He has covered the Browns with distinction since 1984 and is one of 46 voters for the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Use the hashtag #HeyTony on Twitter or email your “Hey Tony” questions to

Follow Tony on Twitter @tonygrossi




Loving the NFL, except for a few things like these

Nov 24, 2015 -- 6:00am

By Tony Grossi |


Photo/AP-Don Wright

The Morning Kickoff …

Ode to football: I am addicted to NFL football. I watch any game I can.

In the dog days of summer, I watch NFL preseason games. I like Thursday night games. I even watched Jacksonville v. Tennessee.

For as long as I can remember, Thanksgiving Day has been about the Macy’s parade, turkey dinner with family, and watching football. I’ve seen more bad Detroit Lions games in my lifetime than any team but the Browns because they have always been the lead game on Thanksgiving Day.

Can’t get enough of the NFL product.

But there are things I don’t like about the NFL. Such as:

1. What is a catch and what isn’t a catch: The sport is all about the passing game now, and never has been the most fundamental offensive play – a throw and catch – been more blurred by NFL mumbo-jumbo and frame-by-frame replay over-analysis. Some of the greatest catches in recent NFL history have been disallowed by ridiculous addendums to these dumb rules. A runner can fumble the ball a split-second after crossing the goal line and be awarded the touchdown. Yet a receiver has to catch a ball, get both feet down, roll over, do the stanky leg, and recite the Pledge of Allegiance before a catch is made official. The old common sense rule of thumb should prevail: If a dozen guys watching in a bar think it’s a catch, then it’s a catch.

2. Pass interference penalties: Pass interference is the NFL’s version of golf’s out-of-bounds penalty. The spot foul is way too penal. Smart teams just throw the ball up and hope for pass interference 40 yards downfield or in the end zone. The Browns were docked 141 yards on four pass interference penalties against Pittsburgh. The NFL should adopt the college limit of 15 yards on pass interference. The NFL argument against it always has been that beaten DBs would be coached to do anything to interfere with a pass destined to be a touchdown. As a concession, the NFL rule should be 15 yards for a normal P.I. and call the spot foul only on severe, intentional interference penalties. Too many games are decided on P.I.’s in crucial situations.

3. Injuries and injury lists: Injured reserve (IR), short-term injured reserve, physically unable to perform (PUP), non-football injury (NFI) are some of the lists a player can be banished to. Then there is the daily media infatuation with who practiced, who was limited, who participated only in individual drills, who sneezed, who coughed, who was excused for personal reasons and who trotted off to go potty but returned for 7-on-7 drills. Who cares? Gamblers who bet on games, that’s who. The easiest way to get mentioned in a daily football notes column anymore is to incur a “soft-tissue” injury and be listed as “day to day.” Guaranteed mentioned every day. Then there’s the recent phenomenon of “concussion protocol.” Players “enter” protocol when diagnosed with concussion symptoms. You imagine these players under protocol being held in a small, dark room with rubber walls. They can’t be let out until they recite the alphabet backwards, or something. Typically, NFL players who suffer a concussion in a game miss the next game, unless, of course, you play for the Browns. In that case, concussion protocol becomes a vacation from having to play in three to five more losses.

4. Friday afternoon player fine news dumps: Each week on Friday, player fines for violations in the previous weekend games are disclosed. The crazy dollar amounts are outlined in the league collective bargaining agreement. For instance, the first offense for a face mask penalty is $8,681. Second offense is $17,363. A uniform violation costs you $5,787. That could include using too much tape on your shoe or inscribing a personal message on a headband or uniform. A second violation will cost you $11,576. Same with throwing a football into the stands. The odd figures comes from the base fines negotiated in the 2011 collective bargaining agreement and adding 5 percent each season thereafter. The NFL says about $4 million in fines has been assessed every year since 2009. The money is donated to two charities that assist former NFL players, the NFL Player Care Foundation and the Gene Upshaw Player Assistance Trust.

5. Preseason and training camp: Charging full price for exhibition games has become such an embarrassment for the NFL that even Commissioner Roger Goodell has labeled the preseason a product below NFL standards. The league can’t simply reduce the preseason, though, because NFL teams are obligated under stadium leases to stage 10 home games a year. The league has divided those into two preseason and eight regular-season games (times two equals four preseason and 16 regular-season). Switching the schedule to two preseason and 18 in regular-season would be a disaster. Injury attrition and hopelessly bad teams would simply transfer two unwatchable preseason games in August to the regular season in December. Imagine the Browns having eight more games to play after their 2-8 start, instead of six. The solution would be to reduce the exhibition schedule to two games per team and replace two games with controlled scrimmages at a greatly reduced ticket price. But stadium leases would have to be re-written for that to happen and the networks would have to agree to it because they want crummy exhibition games for summer programming when appetite for football is swelling. Why? Because people like me will watch them.



Tony Grossi covers the Browns for ESPN 850 WKNR, ESPN 1540 KNR2 and

He has covered the Browns with distinction since 1984 and is one of 46 voters for the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Use the hashtag #HeyTony on Twitter or email your “Hey Tony” questions to

Follow Tony on Twitter @tonygrossi




Browns catch a break on their bye week, and other weekend musings

Nov 23, 2015 -- 6:00am

By Tony Grossi |



The Morning Kickoff …

Ravens droppings: While the Browns sat out their bye week, their next opponent won, but lost big.

The Baltimore Ravens suffered season-ending injuries during a 16-13 victory over the St. Louis Rams to quarterback Joe Flacco (shredded knee) and running back Justin Forsett (broken arm).

That means the Browns will oppose backup QB Matt Schaub when the Ravens come to FirstEnergy Stadium next Monday night. The Ravens were the last team the Browns defeated, 33-30 in overtime on Oct. 11, when Josh McCown threw for a Browns regular-season franchise record 457 yards.

But McCown has now been “Hoyered,” displaced as the starting quarterback so that Johnny Manziel can get on the field. With McCown nursing painfully sore ribs, Manziel “earned” the starting job by producing the biggest losses of the season, 31-10, to the Cincinnati Bengals, and 30-9, to the Pittsburgh Steelers.

Coupled with a 30-0 loss to the Bengals a year ago, Manziel now has accumulated an 0-3 record against division rivals while the Browns have been outscored, 91-19.

And yet the organization seems enthused about this quarterback development. Only in Cleveland.

Bye weekend musings

Peyton’s next place: Brock Osweiler, Denver’s next quarterback, was pretty good in his starting debut in place of Peyton Manning. He was 20 of 27 for 250 yards and two touchdowns in a tough 17-15 road win over the rapidly-improving Chicago Bears. Manning has two injuries and might not get back on the field if Osweiler develops on the run. This possible passing-of-the-torch is accelerating speculation about Manning’s future. For over a year, we have been saying that Manning could be Jimmy Haslam’s next president of football operations. Manning also could be courted for a similar role with the Tennessee Titans. Manning’s post-Denver destination will be one of the biggest NFL stories of the coming offseason.

Two 16-0 seasons?: While most everyone is eyeing the Deflategate-angered New England Patriots to go 16-0, it’s not preposterous to think the Carolina Panthers (10-0) could run the table, as well. The Panthers arguably have the league’s best defense and best quarterback. If they’re not the best, each is in the top three. The Panthers do have four of their last six games on the road, including toughies at Dallas (now with Tony Romo active), the Giants and Atlanta. The Patriots also have four more road games -- at Denver, Houston, the Jets and Miami.

Race for No. 1: With six games to go, three teams are 2-8 – the Browns, San Diego and Tennessee. Neither the Chargers (Philip Rivers) nor the Titans (Marcus Mariota) are in the market for a quarterback. But among four teams at 3-7, one certainly is – the San Francisco 49ers, who benched Colin Kaepernick before he went on season-ending injured reserve. There may not be a unanimous No. 1 quarterback in the draft, but certainly Jared Goff of California and Paxton Lynch of Memphis could merit the top selection. Watch out for: Kevin Hogan of Stanford.

Falling behind:Ten teams had worse records than the Browns’ 7-9 in 2014. And nine of them have better records than the Browns (2-8) in 2015. Here is the roll call: Tampa Bay (2-14 in 2014), 5-5; Oakland (3-13), 4-6; Jacksonville (3-13), 4-6; Washington (4-12), 4-6; Jets (4-12), 5-5; Chicago (5-11), 4-6; Giants (6-10), 5-5; Atlanta (6-10), 6-6; St. Louis (6-10), 4-6. The only team to not better itself is Tennessee (2-14), 2-8.

Fisher falls behind: Jeff Fisher, the quintessential 8-8 coach, is another defensive-minded coach who never acquired a feel for quarterbacks. In March, Fisher traded injury-prone Sam Bradford for Nick Foles. This week, Fisher benched Foles for Case Keenum. Fisher saw Keenum as a caretaker for a team with a great defense and a great running back in Todd Gurley. On Sunday, Keenum was awful in a 16-13 loss to the Ravens, which dropped the Rams to 4-6 – a tad off Fisher’s career 8-8 epitaph. Fisher, who has roots in southern California, may not make it to Los Angeles when owner Stan Kroenke moves the Rams back to LaLa Land.

Not so fast: The Cincinnati Bengals appeared to be running away with the AFC North title. But after two losses in a row and with Pittsburgh’s Ben Roethlisberger getting healthy, don’t count out the Steelers just yet. The Bengals’ 34-31 loss to Arizona Sunday night dropped them to 8-2. The Steelers are 6-4. The Bengals won in Pittsburgh on Nov. 1. The rematch in Cincinnati is Dec. 13. Both teams still have a game to play against the Browns. The division race is far from over. Naturally, the Browns will play a role in it.



Tony Grossi covers the Browns for ESPN 850 WKNR, ESPN 1540 KNR2 and

He has covered the Browns with distinction since 1984 and is one of 46 voters for the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Use the hashtag #HeyTony on Twitter or email your “Hey Tony” questions to

Follow Tony on Twitter @tonygrossi




Browns assistant coaches shed light on a few dark issues

Nov 19, 2015 -- 6:00am

By Tony Grossi |



The Morning Kickoff …

Notes from the last Browns’ practice before their bye week recess …

The assistants talk: Except for the coordinators, who by NFL rule are made available to media once a week, assistant coaches generally are spared the occasional pestering of reporters. The Browns lifted the curtain to assistant coaches this week. Here are the highlights of those Q&A sessions:

I say nothing! I say a lot: Running backs coach Wilbert Montgomery has been one of the more candid assistants in the past, but he bit his tongue hard on Wednesday. Montgomery’s frustration with the state of the running game was quite apparent.

It started with this layup: What’s the state of the running game?

“That’s a tough question, especially being the running backs coach, because it’s hard when you don’t get opportunities to carry the ball,” he said.

OK, let’s get to specifics. Why does Duke Johnson disappear in the second half of games?

“That’s a question you have to ask Flip (offensive coordinator John DeFilippo) because I don’t call the plays. I’m not the play caller so I put guys in the game based on, like I said, we call personnel groupings and they run out on the field based on that, but I’m not the play caller.”

Are you satisfied with the commitment to the running game?

“I can’t answer that one. I can’t answer that question because you look at the history of the guys that I had … (laughter) … they got the ball.”

Can you explain the periodic use of the Wildcat formation, which doesn’t seem to be very effective?

“That’s a tough one, too (laughter). Most people put in a gadget or two so it takes the defense of opposing teams that you’re going to play in the future. It gives them other things to work on because they know you have it in your package. It takes some time putting that in, but you have to be more innovative and do a lot of things with that. When that came in the league a few years back, it was the new thing. It’s still a part of the game and you just have to work it if you want to be good at it. We have so many other things we have to work on to get good at.”

How do you explain the number of negative runs in the Pittsburgh game?

“I was shocked at Pittsburgh because Pittsburgh was never a penetrating defense. They were always a key-read defense, a two-gap defense. They saw where you were going then they would run and make tackles. They played fast. This Pittsburgh defense was different. They penetrated, and that was the difference in the ball game because now, they’re getting you off your spot, they’re getting you off your landmark and that becomes a trouble for the backs and for the offensive linemen and the tight ends.

“Now, you work against something that you thought they were and then you get in a game, they’re doing something totally different. Those guys were big and strong and explosive, and they were getting up field on us.”

This is a fairly amazing admission. Our scouting report on the Steelers made a point of new defensive coordinator Keith Butler switching to a one-gap, penetrating scheme up front. Montgomery’s comments suggest the Browns did not do a good job of advance scouting the Steelers.

Jack of all trades, master of none: Assistant offensive line coach George DeLeone, who took on double duty when line coach Andy Moeller departed in September, conceded that first-round pick Cameron Erving may have been better off in his first season by concentrating on one position rather than all five along the offensive line. Erving’s NFL debut at left guard in Pittsburgh, understandably, was not a rousing success.

“In the short term, he probably would have been better off if we left him to one spot exclusively, but our goal was to get him on the field as soon as we could,” DeLeone said. “We had to mix it in there, mix and match get him dribs and drabs to get him in games. That helped him in the game Sunday in the fact that that wasn’t his first real action. From that standpoint, it helped him.

“From his development mentally, I think he’s a smart enough kid that I think in the long run, it’ll help him, but I don’t know in the short term if he just played one position, obviously, he would have gotten more exposure there and probably would have done a little better.”

The Gilbert chronicles: Defensive backs coach Jeff Hafley said that second-year cornerback Justin Gilbert was a healthy scratch in the Pittsburgh game because of a less-than-scintillating practice week. Gilbert sat while rookie sixth-round pick Charles Gaines made his NFL debut.

“I think what everybody has seen is that the guys that go out and practice the best and the guys we believe give us the best chance, we are going to play those guys,” he said. “We have been through a lot of them this year. You have seen just about everyone in our room has played. That is the way we believe in. You have to go out and you have to practice.

“If a guy is practicing the best and he shows it, you have to go with that guy. There is no magic to this game. It is not a fairy tale where you have a bad week of practice and then you play a guy and he goes in and plays great. It doesn’t happen. We have to keep working to get him better. I know that. We have and we will continue to.”



Tony Grossi covers the Browns for ESPN 850 WKNR, ESPN 1540 KNR2 and

He has covered the Browns with distinction since 1984 and is one of 46 voters for the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Use the hashtag #HeyTony on Twitter or email your “Hey Tony” questions to

Follow Tony on Twitter @tonygrossi




A fantasy look back at the day that changed the Browns' fortunes

Nov 18, 2015 -- 6:00am

By Tony Grossi |


Photo/AP - Ron Schwane


A Morning Kickoff Fantasy …

Feb. 7, 2017: Looking back at it, most everyone cited the turning point as something that happened off the field, not on it.

It wasn’t the six wins in a row to finish at 8-8 in 2015, or the shootout victory over Tom Brady and the two-time defending Super Bowl champion New England Patriots in the 2016 season home-opener.

No, Joe Thomas said on the dais in front of the old Halle Building, with 50,000 fans jam-packed along the parade route hanging on his every word, it was that November day in 2015.  

Turning point: That was when coach Mike Pettine emerged as the only dissenting voice in a franchise-changing meeting. He stood up in owner Jimmy Haslam’s office, pounded a table and said, “No, Jimmy, we’ve got to do it now. We’ve got to play the kid. I’m convinced he’s got ‘it.’”

Impressed with Pettine’s conviction, Haslam looked Pettine in the eye and said, “OK, I trust you. You’re my coach. Make it happen.”

And after the torch was passed to Johnny Manziel, the Browns’ fortunes changed.

Within hours, the NFL announced that Manziel was cleared of any wrongdoing in a heavily mis-reported domestic incident with his girlfriend. In fact, the league commended Manziel for saving his exhausted girlfriend from slipping out the passenger door of his vehicle when she fell asleep after a long day of studying for multiple bar exams.

In the NFL review of the matter, Commissioner Roger Goodell personally nominated Manziel for NFL Man of the Year.

Always the last player to leave the Browns’ facility as the backup quarterback, Manziel became a maniacal film studier as the starter and face of the team.

He canceled previous bye week plans to return to Texas to distribute food baskets to orphans and holed up in the team’s facility for five days in a row. He was a quarterback possessed with one self-less goal – sacrificing his personal life and marketing opportunities to lead the Browns to the Super Bowl. He even donated his Cavaliers season tickets to under-privileged boys and girls who had perfect attendance and attained A grades in Cleveland public schools.

On the field, Manziel quickly displayed not only the play-making skills but also the football acumen boldfaced in scouting reports written by Browns talent sleuth Ray Farmer, furthering Farmer’s reputation as the NFL’s next prominent quarterback guru.

Opponents fell victim to Manziel’s ability to read the defense at the line of scrimmage and uncannily change the play to the right one to beat it at an amazing rate.

Under Manziel’s direction, the Browns not only destroyed opponents with pinpoint passing but also a new-found running game that submitted foes in the fourth quarter. The only criticism of Manziel’s game was his reluctance to leave the pocket when running room was evident.

“I have so many play-makers on this team, I feel I would be abusing the position by not distributing the ball to them,” Manziel said.

During Manziel’s first outing as the undisputed full-time starter, a 35-21 surgical  procedure on the Baltimore Ravens on ESPN’s “Monday Night Football,” analyst Jon Gruden flatly predicted, “Johnny Manziel will win a Super Bowl before I return to coaching.”

Accolades flowed from everywhere as Manziel racked up win after win. ESPN analyst Merril Hoge, formerly Manziel’s nemesis, said he had never seen a player make such a transformation as Manziel.

“I don’t know how I missed on him, but I am here to tell you he is the real deal,” Hoge said.

After running the table in his six-game stint as full-time starter, Manziel said, “We have a lot of work to do. I intend to live full-time in Cleveland and lead my teammates in informal workouts until we get back to work as a team in April.”

The icing: Two days after the conclusion of the 2015 season, Haslam extended the contracts of Farmer and Pettine. Farmer then went to work to surround Manziel with the best possible receivers.

He started by signing receiver Travis Benjamin and tight end Gary Barnidge to new contracts and keep them off the free agent market. Farmer then shocked the world by finagling a trade with the overmatched Tampa Bay Buccaneers for receiver Mike Evans, the former teammate of Manziel’s at Texas A&M, and also welcomed back Josh Gordon, who was formally reinstated by Goodell for exemplary behavior during his “indefinite” suspension.

Farmer said he never wavered in refusing trade offers for Gordon from the Patriots, which put a full-court press on Farmer. New England’s trade package included the return of Browns apparel and classified analytics data stolen by former Browns assistant GM Mike Lombardi in 2014.

“You can never have enough great receivers,” Farmer said.

The Browns were established as preseason AFC favorites to reach the Super Bowl by most of the 2016 season preview magazines.

Peter King of wrote, “With Manziel maturing into his third NFL season and with the weapons Farmer has collected, the Browns will be a powerhouse and outlast the Detroit Lions in Super Bowl 51.”

King was right on, of course.

At the post-game Vince Lombardi Trophy presentation, Manziel gave credit to his offensive line and to Pettine for believing in him “from the beginning.”

That was also the theme at the victory celebration back in Cleveland.

Hoge, the honorary emcee of the event, noted that the key to everything was Pettine making the then-unpopular decision to promote Manziel to the starter’s role.

“That’s why we drafted him,” Pettine said.



Tony Grossi covers the Browns for ESPN 850 WKNR, ESPN 1540 KNR2 and

He has covered the Browns with distinction since 1984 and is one of 46 voters for the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Use the hashtag #HeyTony on Twitter or email your “Hey Tony” questions to

Follow Tony on Twitter @tonygrossi




  • Page 1 of 305
  • 1
  • 2
  • 3
  • ...
  • »
  • »»


(216) 578-0850
(216) 523-1540


WKNR Weekly Schedule           KRN2 Weekly Schedule