PITTSBURGH (AP) — The previous time Landry Jones and Johnny Manziel played in the same game, Manziel was a college football supernova and Jones was finishing off one of the best careers in Big 12 conference history.
Fast forward nearly three years from that day in Dallas when Manziel and Texas A&M dismantled Jones and Oklahoma in the 2013 Cotton Bowl and things have changed.
Johnny Football has gotten off to a slow start in Cleveland, which may have to reluctantly start Manziel while veteran Josh McCown nurses a banged up rib.
Jones, meanwhile, has rapidly transformed from seemingly overmatched third-stringer in Pittsburgh to reasonable replacement as Ben Roethlisberger recovers from a sprained left foot.
If Roethlisberger isn’t ready in time on Sunday when the Steelers (5-4) host the Browns (2-7), Jones will have to find a way to replicate his steady relief appearances over the course of an entire game.
Jones is 2-0 coming off the bench, including putting together a late field goal drive last week against Oakland after Roethlisberger exited Heinz Field on a cart.
Yet Jones struggled while playing the full 60 minutes in Kansas City last month, throwing a pair of interceptions in a dismal 23-13 loss to the Chiefs in his lone NFL start.
Oklahoma’s all-time leading passer labeled it a learning experience, one he’ll try not to repeat against reeling Cleveland.
“You can’t overthink things,” Jones said. “You just have to go out there and make plays and make plays inside the offense. I think in the Kansas City game I was trying to do too much.”
The way Jones figures it, his job shouldn’t be that difficult, not with Antonio Brown to throw to and resurgent DeAngelo Williams lining up behind him.
“I just have to go out there and play,” Jones said. “I can’t play timid, or worry about the mistakes and the future. I just have to go out there and cut loose.”
That was never an issue for Manziel in college, not so much the NFL. The 2012 Heisman Trophy winner could make his fifth start in a place the Browns haven’t won since 2003 back when Manziel was in middle school.
Some other things to look for as Cleveland looks to give its season a needed jolt while Pittsburgh attempts to head into the bye week with some momentum.
IN A RUSH: Pittsburgh’s running game continues to hum right along even with Le’Veon Bell out for the season with a right knee injury. Williams ran for 170 yards against the Raiders, the second-highest total in the league this season. Heady territory for a 32-year-old the Steelers sprinted to sign after Williams spent nearly a decade in Carolina.
“I would imagine DeAngelo would be a good fit in whatever circumstance he’s in,” coach Mike Tomlin said. “You don’t get to do what he’s done, at the level he’s done it, for so long without having some attractive qualities.”
STOPPING BROWN: With Pro Bowl cornerback Joe Haden expected to miss his second straight game with his second concussion this season, the Browns will be more challenged to defend Brown, who dominated Oakland’s secondary last week for a franchise-record 17 receptions and 284 yards.
“Hopefully, he’s a little worn out, a little dehydrated from last week,” joked coach Mike Pettine. “He’s a special player.”
Brown’s so tough because the Steelers move him around, Pettine said.
“They’re creative in how they get him the football,” he said.
WHAT RIVALRY?: The previous time Cleveland won in Pittsburgh, Tim Couch was the Browns’ starting quarterback. That was 11 games and roughly 20 quarterbacks ago.
Still, the Steelers remain an unequaled enemy in the eyes of most Cleveland fans. Though McCown is in his first season with the Browns, but it hasn’t taken him long to appreciate the disdain many Ohioans have for their black-and-gold wearing neighbors from Pennsylvania.
“A win for our football team is what we need so bad when you’re in a situation like this,” McCown said. “It’s great for us, but the added value is the city and how excited people get when you beat the Steelers. We know how important that is.”
GETTING HOME: Pittsburgh failed to sack Oakland’s Derek Carr last Sunday, and Carr responded by throwing for four touchdowns. Manziel can be slippery if allowed to escape the pocket. He made a handful of plays on the run in the first half against Cincinnati. It’s a notion not lost on the Steelers.
“You see a guy hold onto the ball like that, you think you can get home,” linebacker Arthur Moats said. “You know he’s going to try and make something happen with his feet, if he does that, we’ve got to keep him in the pocket and try to get to him.”
AP Sports Writer Tom Withers in Cleveland contributed to this report.
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