BEREA, Ohio — Austin Davis has scaled the Browns depth chart over the past few weeks. It’s an annual tradition this time of year for Cleveland quarterbacks.
After weeks as a third-stringer, Davis is the new starter — No. 24 for the club since 1999.
“I’ve heard that number tossed around,” Davis said when asked about a number that perhaps best underscores this franchise’s continued woes.
The merry-go-round took another spin Wednesday as coach Mike Pettine picked Davis over Johnny Manziel to start Sunday against the Cincinnati Bengals. The switch was necessary because Josh McCown, who spent most of the season absorbing body blows like a boxer’s sparring partner, broke his right collarbone Monday night against Baltimore and will miss the final five games.
Pettine said his decision to play Davis and not Manziel — recently demoted for breaking a promise to Cleveland’s coaches to behave during the bye week — had nothing to do with punishing one player but rewarding another.
“He deserves this opportunity,” Pettine said of Davis, who replaced an injured McCown in the fourth quarter.
Pettine is only committing to Davis, who went 3-5 in eight starts for St. Louis last season, as his starter for this week.
“We’ll revisit this,” Pettine said. “These are two players that we both want to see play is the bottom line. I don’t want to declare, ‘Hey, this is what it’s going to be from here on out.’ These are two young quarterbacks that have upside and we want to see what that upside is. Austin’s the guy for this week.”
Pettine said the Browns are not dissatisfied with Manziel. The 22-year-old 2012 Heisman Trophy winner has given no indication he wants out of Cleveland.
Davis now gets to show the Browns what he can do with more time to prepare.
Rushed into action for McCown, the 26-year-old Davis threw a tying touchdown pass and moved the Browns into position for a winning field goal. But Travis Coons’ 51-yard attempt was blocked by the Ravens and returned 64 yards for a TD as time expired, sending the Browns (2-9) to their sixth straight loss — a defeat as crushing as any in recent memory for Cleveland.
Davis completed 7 of 10 passes — he went for 6 for 6 on the scoring drive — for 77 yards. And he did it after hearing some Browns fans chant “John-ny, John-ny,” hoping Pettine would free Manziel from his doghouse.
Pettine praised Davis’ mental approach and work ethic, saying he is “as prepared as any quarterback that I’ve been around.”
Davis said the fear of failure drives him.
“I hate feeling unprepared for anything, especially being quarterback on an NFL football team. I feel like there are so many people that are counting on you and looking at you to play well,” he said. “The fact of letting people down just bothers me. That’s where just the hard work and prep comes from. It’s a big responsibility.”
While it’s a new beginning for Davis, McCown’s first season in Cleveland ended in disappointment and his right arm in a sling. McCown divulged for the first time that he played several games with broken ribs.
In typical fashion, McCown, 36, downplayed the physical toll taken on his body. For him, the bigger suffering is in not finishing with his teammates.
“I’m not the only guy that is fighting through stuff,” he said. “What’s the hardest thing for me to deal with in this situation is you just want to be available for your teammates and be there for your guys and so when you can’t be, it hurts. It hurts more than any of the physical things.”