Amidst a backdrop of organizational disagreement, if not dysfunction, Manziel was not given the same benefit of the doubt of a normal first-round quarterback. His talent was not obvious enough on Sundays to ignore all the headaches that he's caused Pettine over the last two years. But Manziel earned his way onto the field by looking like a true NFL starter for the first time.
His performance against the Steelers wasn't perfect. He started off slowly and three of the six sacks he took were on him. Something appeared to click, however, after a few drives. Manziel was decisive. He looked far more comfortable making throws from the pocket in addition to a few highlight-reel improvised plays. His accuracy and arm strength were pluses, although he used the heater too much on some shorter throws. The Browns would have scored more points if not for fumbles, penalties and drops. That's not on Manziel.
It was not a game-changing outing. It was just a professional start that would fit right in with the seasons that guys like Marcus Mariota, Ryan Fitzpatrick and Tyrod Taylor are having. It was more than enough to pique Pettine's curiosity about what Manziel could do down the stretch. Perhaps he can even save Pettine's job.
This is the Quarterback Index. The rankings below are based only on this season's play.
Alone at the top
The loss of Dion Lewis, Julian Edelman and Brady's top three offensive tackles has already had an impact on Brady's potential MVP season. The Patriots' offense stagnated for much of the final three quarters against the Giants once Edelman was hurt, and the Giants' pass rush came alive against New England for one of the first times all year. Brady still played well overall against New York but nearly threw two picks in the final five minutes. Two of my three lowest grades for him this season came in the last two weeks. There's no cause for alarm -- and it looks like the line is healthier this week -- but it's unrealistic to expect him to keep up his flawless early pace all season.
Carson Palmer's crotch-chop to the Seattle sideline was his announcement to America: This is not your old Carson Palmer. He's even better than 2005 because of his maturity and the teammates around him. Scoring 39 points in Seattle was the loudest statement possible, especially when he threw for 65 yards on the decisive touchdown drive after back-to-back sack fumbles. ... Cam Newton is getting better as the season progresses. His performance against Tennessee was the cleanest and most consistent of his season. He's specializing in the mid-range tosses from 15 to 20 yards. Cam is strong enough to shake off Titans defensive tackle Jurrell Casey like he was a cornerback. The Panthers are confident enough in Cam's strength to run power runs for him when up 20-10 late in the fourth quarter.
Roethlisberger would be ranked No. 2 if he hadn't missed games. It doesn't hurt when his receivers get acres of separation against the Browns. Big Ben stepped up surprisingly well in the pocket against pressure. ... Andy Dalton's two worst games of the season (by far) have come in the last three weeks. He hasn't hit his vertical throws since Week 6 against Buffalo, struggling to keep passes inbounds. He could have easily had three picks against Houston. Now Dalton gets the ultimate test against the best secondary in the league on the road in Arizona.
This recent Saints slide is not on Drew Brees. He's played like a top-five quarterback since coming back from his shoulder injury. ... The next seven games will be a huge test for Derek Carr because it looks like his defense is ready to collapse, and he'll have to carry the entire team. ... Russell Wilson is about as consistent week-to-week as any quarterback, but his last two outings (against Dallas and Arizona) were down performances.
Middle of the pack
The BortlesCoaster doesn't quite have a ring to it, so maybe we'll call this season from the Jaguars quarterback Bortlesmania. He might lead the entire league in "wow" plays but he will follow two outrageous throws with huge mistakes. No quarterback has more highs and lows, but there's no denying Bortles has made real progress. He reminds me of a young Cam Newton. He's late on throws but can make up for it with his big arm. There is so much flash and so much disaster. Last week was typical. He had some great scrambles away from pressure. But he also almost threw the game away one play before the game's controversial finish. ... Marcus Mariota, meanwhile, is steady as a metronome. Despite the wildly varying statistics, his games against the Saints and the Panthers weren't too different. He takes what the defense gives him without a lot of fuss. Despite one rookie mistake on a bad interception, Mariota was very sharp against Carolina. He just didn't get the breaks that he did the week before. His touch is excellent. He reminds me a little of Drew Brees, with better running.
Joe Flacco easily out-played Bortles last week. It was one of the best performances by a quarterback with three turnovers you will ever see. He has to carry the Ravens as much as any quarterback is carrying an offense right now. ... Ryan Fitzpatrick and Tyrod Taylor both had ugly performances last Thursday night. Fitzpatrick always keeps firing, even when he's off target. That paid off in the fourth quarter against Buffalo, but there has to be some concern that Fitzmagic could revert to the mean down the stretch. Taylor struggled with the blitz and getting the ball out of his hands quickly. We'd expect the Patriots to send a lot of pressure Taylor's way, and see if Malcolm Butler can handle Sammy Watkins. Butler's outing against Odell Beckham was one of the best games from a cornerback all year. ... Teddy Bridgewater had a nice, steady performance against Oakland. He also might have the most authoritative barking cadence before the snap of any quarterback in the league, which should count for something. ... Sam Bradford got hurt just as he was starting to play consistently.
Kirk Cousins has played well in back-to-back weeks, even if he doesn't show off a high ceiling. Even his strong games feel like the type of professional performance you get from Peak Alex Smith. But if Cousins can play like this consistently instead of throwing in mental meltdowns every three games, the Redskins are going to pay him solid money. ... Ryan Tannehill still struggles with recognizing blitzes and handling some of the situational parts of the game. There is very little difference between him at 25 and Taylor at No. 15, but Tannehill has too many stinker weeks on the resume. ... Eli played great against New England. He seems to have learned the strengths of the motley crew of receivers he's throwing to other than Odell Beckham.
Manning can't go out like that. His game against Kansas City made Andy Dalton's effort against Cleveland last year look like a masterclass in comparison. ... Nick Foles had not put together a good start since Week 4. The Rams made it clear they think he was "going for too much" and not going through his progressions. It would be surprising if Case Keenum kept the starting job the rest of the year, but this is a low moment for Foles' career.