BEREA, Ohio — Brian Hoyer held off Johnny Manziel again. The Browns are still his team.
Cleveland's struggling veteran quarterback kept his job and will start Sunday against Indianapolis after first-year coach Mike Pettine decided he would be a better choice to lead the Browns down the stretch than Manziel, the super-hyped rookie who gave the team a spark last week in a loss at Buffalo.
Hoyer has played poorly for a month, but the Browns (7-5) are sticking with him as they try to make the playoffs for the first time since 2002.
Pettine described the decision as "close" and "difficult" because of Hoyer's recent issues, but in the end the Browns coaching staff put more value on his experience and success this season.
"It wasn't perfect and he's made his share of mistakes, but he's gotten the lion's share of reps in practice and virtually all of them in games and has us in the thick of a playoff hunt," Pettine said. "That, to me, was probably the biggest determining factor."
Pettine said the decision was reached on Tuesday morning. There was some "lively" discussion with his coaching staff, which finally agreed that staying with Hoyer gave the Browns the best chance to win against the Colts. Pettine said Hoyer will not be on a "short leash" and he's confident the five-year veteran — and Cleveland's entire offense — can bounce back after a rough stretch of games.
"We need to play better across the board in order for us to get to where we want to be," he said.
Hoyer was benched in the fourth quarter last week for Manziel after throwing two interceptions against the Bills. He has just one touchdown pass and six interceptions in his past three games and Hoyer's decision-making — one of his strengths earlier this season — has been questionable.
Manziel was impressive in his most significant playing time last week, leading the Browns on an 80-yard touchdown drive in his first series. The former Heisman Trophy winner, who will turn 22 on Saturday, was selected to be Cleveland's future QB.
Pettine said Manziel's performance prompted some discussion about using a package of plays for him "If it calls for it in game."
Cleveland's struggles to find a franchise quarterback — it has used 20 starters since 1999 — has been the biggest reason behind the team's futility.
Pettine has seen Hoyer rebound after bad games before and is trusting he can do it again.
"We're going to get the guys around him playing better and we're going to get Brian playing better," Pettine said. "He knows there's some things that he needs to work on. I think he has shown the ability to bounce back from things that have happened negatively in the past. "
On Monday, Hoyer said he expected to keep his job and defended his performance. The team's record was earned through hard work, not luck, he said.
"I think I've proven that I've gotten us to this point. I feel like I can carry us through the next four games," he said. "There's no doubt in my mind that I'll be ready to go."
This is Hoyer's dream job. He grew up in Cleveland rooting for the Browns, and the 29-year-old fulfilled his boyhood wishes when he was given the starting job last season. He made three starts before sustaining a torn knee ligament on a scramble against the Bills, whose defense was coached by Pettine at the time.
Hoyer rehabbed tirelessly to get back and while he expected the Browns to draft a quarterback, he never imagined it would be Manziel, the immensely popular former Texas A&M quarterback. Hoyer beat out Manziel in training camp and he's managed to keep the 21-year-old behind him.
Hoyer is in the final year of his contract and with Manziel around, may have to sign elsewhere in the offseason. But for now, he'll lead the Browns.
NOTES: Starting RB Isaiah Crowell is being held out of Wednesday's practice with an unspecified injury. He leads the team with seven touchdowns. ... Pettine said he spoke with WR Miles Austin, who remains hospitalized in the Buffalo area with a kidney injury. The Browns placed him on injured reserve, ending his first season with Cleveland. ... Pettine confirmed TE Gary Barnidge has a rib injury and remains day-to-day.