CLEVELAND — Johnny Manziel has only himself to blame.
This was going to be his big night, the main attraction under the bright lights. This was his chance to show how much he’s progressed, thrill his fans with those ad-libbed Johnny Football moves and prove he’s more than hype.
This was going to be Manziel’s coming-out party — on Monday Night Football.
He celebrated a little too early.
Manziel’s demotion from starter to third stringer — without playing a game — after a video and photos of him partying in a Texas club during Cleveland’s bye week has stolen much of the luster from the Browns’ matchup against the Baltimore Ravens, which was already going to struggle for interest and TV ratings.
Two bad teams, both riddled by key injuries — Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco is done for the season — and out of the playoff conversation were going to make this a tough sell anyway. At least Manziel would have provided a sexy subplot to an otherwise nondescript matchup.
Not anymore, and Manziel might be inactive as the Browns (2-8) begin a six-game stretch which could determine whether their offseason will bring more change.
Manziel’s swift descent has been a distraction the Browns could ill afford. The 22-year-old took a major step forward in his comeback with a 372-yard passing performance on Nov. 15 in Pittsburgh and was promoted to starter only to throw it all away with another poor off-field decision.
The major misstep left Browns coach Mike Pettine with little choice but to bench Manziel, who had promised the coaching staff he would behave himself during the team’s break, failed to keep his word and is back to square one.
Although his future could rest on Cleveland’s performance over the last six games, Pettine insisted his decision to sit Manziel and return Josh McCown to the starting lineup had nothing to do with his job security or any issue with Manziel.
“We want what is best for him,” Pettine said. “There is no personal rift between he and I. There is nobody that is going to be more proud when he does turn the corner and he is a success. I don’t think anyone will be more proud than I am. Sometimes when you are a parent, you know that the concept of tough love is usually the best. This is taking a step back to hopefully to take several forward.”
Here are five other things to keep any eye on as the Browns play on Monday night for the first time since losing 16-0 to the Ravens in 2009:
McCown left during the bye week thinking his last shot at being an NFL starter might be over. But the 36-year-old is back behind center and eager for a second shot at the Ravens, whom he scorched for a franchise record 457 yards when the teams played on Oct. 11.
The consummate teammate, McCown didn’t revel in being back atop the depth chart at Manziel’s expense.
“You never want to regain a job this way,” he said. “You have to serve your team and do the job that the coaches ask you to do.”
Baltimore’s seven defeats have come by 32 points, and the Ravens are the first team in history to have its first 10 games decided by eight points or fewer.