Hoyer stood at his locker and quietly waited as all the recorders and cameras and outstretched hands assembled around him. No, the Browns' offense didn't perform as it should have. Yes, he needs to play better. No, he is not considering life as a clipboard-holding backup to Johnny Manziel. Yes, until Hoyer hears otherwise, and -- here's the big thing -- even if he does, he will prepare as Cleveland's starting quarterback.
Still, it was Hoyer who met with the media Monday, because as of this minute, he's the Browns' starter and leader. And so he remained unbowed, even a bit defiant. Pointing to his record, he said, "We're 7-5. This doesn't just happen by luck. It was hard-earned." And then again: "You don't get to 7-5 in the NFL just by lucking into it." He reminded folks of the 10 wins he has as the Browns' starting quarterback over the past two seasons. 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. And there's no doubt in my mind that I'll be ready to go."
Even more understated than usual, Pettine looked like a man genuinely conflicted. He is in a quandary. Should he go back to the more seasoned veteran who, yes, has helped engineer seven wins and real legitimacy for a team that frankly hasn't seen much? Or should he tap the rookie who gets out on a bootleg faster than coordinator Kyle Shanahan can draw one up, and maybe spark this offense?
Because, after all, it is a maybe.
Receiver Travis Benjamin, the lone skill player in Monday's open locker-room session, said "we have to work more" when Manziel's in. Not because Manziel's legs keep a play alive longer, but because "if he pronounces the play wrong, we have to make sure we correct it."
To be fair, Benjamin said there were no obvious mistakes yesterday. Pettine used the words "stagnant" and "listless" to describe his offense -- and who is the exact opposite of both those words? Manziel works hard and is easily a different, more comfortable player than he was when training camp closed. He is uniformly liked by his teammates for his work ethic and his easygoing manner.
And yet, when the offensive coaches met earlier in the day and batted around the possibilities, there was no easy consensus. There is a sense in the building that if the Browns can't win this Sunday's game against the Colts, they're almost assuredly out of the playoff race and might as well switch to Manziel. But someone who was privy to the conversations in that room said there was a strong argument made that Hoyer actually offers the safer option, the one more likely to win this particular matchup, and that some were advocating strongly that the hometown guy be given one more game.
There's no doubt Hoyer has struggled of late. In his past three games, he has just one touchdown against six interceptions (a garish rate, even if Josh Gordon took responsibility for one of the picks in Buffalo). In the past nine trips Hoyer led into the red zone, the Browns have come out with just one touchdown. He's looked especially lost when there's been no lift from the running game (see: losses to Jacksonville and Houston, as well as Sunday's setback), but he's also had easy passes go awry that didn't used to before, and perhaps he is indeed pressing. Hoyer has no contract after this season, and the specter of Manziel, a first-round draft pick, has only grown. Even Pettine couldn't unequivocally answer when asked if maybe it's all finally gotten in Hoyer's head.
For his part, Hoyer said, "I can only worry about what I can control. And until (Pettine) decides what he wants to do, you know, like I said, I'm going about it as (if) I'm the starter. I'm studying my tape on Indy, and I would do the same if I wasn't ... For me, you know, nothing's changed."
The question is, has it for everyone else?