BEREA, Ohio – It is fair to wonder whether Cleveland Browns coach Mike Pettine might have named high-profile rookie Johnny Manziel his starter rather than the more experienced, poised Brian Hoyer Wednesday had the 22 nd pick worked harder prior to training camp -- and had Manziel not lost his composure when he flashed his middle finger to the Washington Redskins during Monday night's 24-23 preseason loss.
"Obviously, Manziel's lack of maturity shown in that gesture played a big factor in the coach's decision,'' long-time Browns fan, Paul Heinbaugh, 59, told USA TODAY Sports Wednesday. "What would (franchise founder) Paul Brown have said about something like that?
"If you look at the Tom Bradys, the Peyton Mannings and the Ben Roethlisbergers, you've never seen another rookie quarterback start off like like that on national television.''
Fantasy impact: Manziel still the better bet
The Pittsburgh-based website Benstonium.com poked fun at Manziel's obscene gesture by tweeting that it is selling a black and gold foam middle finger that says, "Welcome to Pittsburgh, Johnny'' in preparation for Manziel's arrival in the Steel City as a backup for the Sept. 7 opener.
"Brian Hoyer said he played his worst football, and he was embarrassed by his performance (2 of 6 for 16 yards) when the other kid should have been the one apologizing for what he did,'' Heinbaugh said.
"Hoyer's just a solid kid who comes from here, says and does the right things.''
And now it's a matter of how the hometown hero from nearby North Olmsted responds to the pressure of having the opportunity of his career.
"Now he's not fighting for his job and can show why he deserves to be the starter,'' said Browns fan LaToya Pratta, 35, from Northeast Ohio. "Johnny should be sitting on the bench. He has to understand this is not college anymore, and it's about your image.
"The finger definitely factored into this decision. Everybody's looking at Johnny Football and he did that on Monday night football, which magnifies it 10 times more. Johnny still has to grow up.
"But Hoyer has to prove he's earned this.''
Analysis: Pressure on Hoyer to perform
So far, Hoyer has completed just 8 of 20 passes, a 40% completion rate for 108 yards in two unimpressive preseason showings. And while he insisted he wasn't pressing Monday night, it sure appeared he wilted under the pressure of Manziel-mania.
"You already know the kid, Manziel is not ready,'' said Bill Szabo, a 54-year-old Browns fan from Brook Park. "The coaches should have said Hoyer was the starter from Day 1 of training camp.''
Pettine's decision was based on the entire body of work – practices, meetings, game preparation, film study, leadership -- as he, offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan and quarterbacks coach Dowell Loggains made the call late Tuesday night to go with the more experienced leader. It was announced on the team website Wednesday morning.
So how patient will the staff be with Hoyer, who led the Browns to a 3-0 record last year before suffering a season-ending knee injury on Oct. 3?
"You've got to perform and you've got to win,'' Clevelandbrowns.com senior editor and SIRIUS NFL Radio analyst Vic Carucci said on Cleveland's 92.3 The Fan.
"If you're getting blown out one, two, three, the first three starts of the season, you have to think about changing. When you make this decision as a coach and as an organization, you do it intending to have success. It's not about a short leash, long leash. You pick the guy you think has the best chance to win. If you're right, he's winning.
"And then we're asking the question, 'Well, when does Johnny get in there?' But the Browns are winning.
"That's a good problem to have.''
Johnny Manziel will begin the season on the bench. When he plays depends on how Hoyer does.
Pettine said on the Browns website that it was Hoyer's job to lose from the start and that Manziel has a bright future.
"He was the clear leader from the beginning,'' Pettine said. "We've maintained all along that if it was close, I would prefer to go with the more experienced player. Brian has done a great job in the meeting rooms and with his teammates on the practice field and in the locker room.''
So Hoyer is the man who will get the starting repetitions in practice today.
But most Browns fans consider him the temporary placeholder – unless he responds in a big way – and until Manziel grows enough to show he is ready to be the franchise's future.