If you had a chance to watch Thursday Night Football on the NFL Network, you would have seen the man they used to call Johnny Football sitting on the bench with his ski cap over his ears, signaling in plays to Brian Hoyer, the starting quarterback for the Cleveland Browns.

Johnny Manziel could now go by the handle of Johnny Backup, because Hoyer is a native of Cleveland and is leading the Browns to places they have not been in many years and the fans love it.

According to this week’s edition of USA Today Sports Weekly, Manziel is only one of three quarterbacks taken in the first round of the National Football League draft this year who has yet to start a football game.

The other two quarterbacks taken in Round 1, Blake Bortles of the Jacksonville Jaguars and Teddy Bridgewater of the Minnesota Vikings are both starters, the newspaper points out. And second-rounder Derek Carr has been under center all season for the Oakland Raiders.

And going one step farther, sixth-rounder Zach Mettenberger has started for the Tennessee Titans for the past two games.

“So what has happened for Manziel not to have gotten into a game since Sept. 21, when his last play, a reception on a trick play, was negated by a penalty?’ the article asks.

Manziel has nothing but Hoyer standing in his way, leading the Browns to a 6-3 record after last Thursday’s impressive 24-3 victory over the state-rival Cincinnati Bengals and sole possession of first place in the AFC North Division standings.

Five wins in six games are more wins than in the entire 2013 season (4-12 record). As CBS sports commentator Phil Simms said last Sunday about the strong group of AFC teams, “But, of course, no one expected Brian Hoyer to be the Browns quarterback going into the second half of the season.”

The victory over the Bengals was momentous in more ways than one. The Browns have not won on the road against a division opponent in the last 17 games dating to 2008. 

That’s the longest such losing streak by a team within its division since the 1970 AFL-NFL merger.

“Things have changed quite a bit,” says fifth-year Browns’ cornerback Joe Haden, a Pro-Bowler last season. “To be 6-3 is just amazing. Five games are the most we’ve won since I’ve been here.”

“I think the way Cleveland sees itself, and the way people see Cleveland, is as an underdog—the city that everybody likes to put down and make jokes about,” added Browns left tackle Joe Thomas.

“Brian is a guy from here, wasn’t a highly-drafted quarterback, not a highly sought-after free agent, was the No. 3 quarterback here last year going into the season—so I think he has a chip on his shoulder like a lot of people feel the City of Cleveland does,” Thomas concluded.

First-year Head Coach Mike Pettine says Manziel’s package of speciality plays hasn’t disappeared and the rookie remains part of the coaching staff’s planning process. But with the Browns now leading the AFC North– perhaps the most competitive division in the NFL– the coaching staff is not inclined to experiment.

“It’s an interesting situation,” Pettine said last week. “We’re week-to-week and Hoyer does give us the best opportunity to win. He’s proving that, and I don’t see that changing anytime soon,”

Hoyer is truly a native son of Cleveland—the only NFL quarterback playing for his hometown team. But it was Manziel who became the most popular athlete in the city, remaining that way until LeBron James announced his decision to go home to northeast Ohio in July. 

There was an influx of season ticket requests when Manziel was drafted by Cleveland and tickets for most days of training camp sold out. Manziel also had the league’s best-selling jersey throughout the off-season.

It was an exciting time to be a Browns fan, but a stressful time to be a Hoyer fan. Through all of the public declarations from Browns owner Jimmy Haslam and Pettine that the organization wanted Manziel to be the backup, it became clear this would be no ordinary competition for the starting quarterback job.

Hoyer won the job in mid-August, so Manziel-mania is on hold while Hoyer remains entrenched as the Browns starting quarterback. 

And Johnny Manziel says he’s making a conscious effort to remain under the radar until his turn comes. 

KWICKIES…I couldn’t help but notice early in the fourth period of the New York Giants-Seattle Seahawks game on FOX-TV Sunday that the Giants assistant coaches were laughing and cutting up, having a good time when the Giants were driving to break the 17-17 tie with Seattle. But their smiles turned to frowns really quick when Orange’s All–Pro safety Earl Thomas intercepted an Eli Manning pass in the end zone and ran it back to near mid-field. The Seahawks went on to score and take the lead, and then scored twice more after that to ice the much-needed 38-17 victory and send the Giants to their sixth loss of the season.

Good Luck to the three Orange area teams—the West Orange Stark Mustangs, the Little Cypress-Mauriceville Bears and the Orangefield Bobcats—who qualified for the state football playoffs that begin this week and last until the week before Christmas. I picked you all to win this week, so don’t let me down!!! The Orange Community Christian Lions won their final regular season game Friday night 68-23 over Covenant Christian.

Texas teams fared very well in last weekend’s college football action with the Texas Longhorns, Texas A&M Aggies , Baylor and TCU all pulling out upset victories. Things didn’t go as well across the Sabine River where LSU and my McNeese State Cowboys both were upset victims. Baylor has won 27 straight games when leading at halftime.

And while on the subject of college football, this week’s Associated Press Top 25 College Football Poll has two Texas teams moving up in the top 10—TCU jumped up one place to No. 5 while the Baylor Bears elevated four spots to No.6. No. 1 Mississippi State, No. 2 Florida State and No. 4 Alabama remained the same while No. 3 Oregon moved up two places, No. 7 Arizona State jumped up four spots, Ohio State catapulted five places to No. 8, Auburn slid down from third to No. 9 and Ole Miss moved up two notches to No. 10. LSU slipped down six places to No. 20 after their tough loss to Alabama Saturday night.

JUST BETWEEN US…It took a while but I finally snapped as to why the University Interscholastic League has so many four and five-team districts in its latest realignment effort last winter, despite the fact the top four teams from each district qualify for the state playoffs. It’s the money!!! The UIL snatches 15 per cent of the gate receipts from EVERY playoff game. Now it all makes sense.