Monday, December 15, 2014

Putting Johnny Manziel's first pro start into perspective

One of the most equitable headlines about Johnny Manziel's first NFL start was titled: "The hideous, shockingly awful starting debut of Johnny Manziel."  Probably not an article he's going to save for his grandchildren to read some day.

I watched Manziel's first pro start, against the Cleveland Browns' in-state rival Cincinnati Bengals, in all its agonizingly painful ignominy.  Johnny looked small, and lost, and tentative, and hopeless. The usually upbeat, glib, posturing "Johnny Football" was nowhere to be found.  He sprinted off the field with embarrassing haste after two interceptions, then sat on the sidelines, dejected, after numerous 3-and-outs.  The spark Manziel was known for as the Heisman-winning, successfully scrambling QB at Texas A&M was extinguished.  Even the most charitable person would call pro his debut under center a disappointing performance.

But I am not joining the beat up Johnny Football parade.  I'm not tweeting with the hashtag JohnnyInterception or any of the other unfunny puns the schadenfreude brigade filled Twitter with on Sunday.  Because while it was unrealistic to think Manziel was the savior who would carry the Browns into the playoffs on grit and spunk alone, so too is the claim that you can predict his future based on this one start.

Let's go through the history books.  Aaron Rodgers, now one of the preeminent quarterbacks in the league, had a worse debut.  In 2005, then 22-year-old Aaron Rodgers went 8-for-15 for 65 yards, for a completion percentage of 53.3 and average passing yards of 4.33.  He threw no TDs and one interception; his rating was 36.8.  He ran once, for 8 yards.

Matthew Stafford is no Aaron Rodgers, but with an 87.8 rating, he's not exactly chopped liver.  His first game he threw 16-for-37 for 205 yard with three interceptions.    And at 6'3" we know his issue wasn't seeing over the defensive line.

Terry Bradshaw may now be best known for his questionable hair styling, but he was once a star QB for the Pittsburgh Steelers.  The former NFL MVP and Hall of Famer's debut?  He went 4-for-16, for 70 yards, and threw one interception.  The rest of his rookie season did not fare much better, but he learned and improved.

Pro Bowl QB Alex Smith was 9-for-23, for 74 yards, with four interceptions his first outing. Former Browns QB Brandon Weedon had his own inauspicious debut going 12-for-35, for 118 yards, with four interceptions.  John Elway didn't shine his first game, Tom Brady was shaky. And how well did you do your first full day on the job?

I get that anyone who calls himself Johnny Football, does more commercials than most seasoned players, hobnobs with celebrities, and parties like a frat boy on Spring Break, is asking for this type of scrutiny and this type of gleeful reaction to his falling short (get it, short?) of his promise.  But don't write Manziel off just yet.  This was one game and it's still too early to see if his inestimable skills can translate to the pros.  I can't say for sure he'll get there, but I know that we don't know the answer to that question after just one game.

For me, the book's still open on Manziel and I'm looking forward to see if there's improvement his next game, and the game after.  He may still show us some of what thrilled us all back at College Station.

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