A fantasy look back at the day that change the Browns' fortunes <SMALL class=tstamp>Nov 18, 2015 -- Tony Grossi</SMALL> EUCLID AVENUE, CLEVELAND, OH A Morning Kickoff Fantasy … Feb. 7, 2017: Looking back at it, most everyone cited the turning point as something that happened off the field, not on it. It wasn’t the six wins in a row to finish at 8-8 in 2015, or the shootout victory over Tom Brady and the two-time defending Super Bowl champion New England Patriots in the 2016 season home-opener. No, Joe Thomas said on the dais in front of the old Halle Building, with 50,000 fans jam-packed along the parade route hanging on his every word, it was that November day in 2015. Turning point: That was when coach Mike Pettine emerged as the only dissenting voice in a franchise-changing meeting. He stood up in owner Jimmy Haslam’s office, pounded a table and said, “No, Jimmy, we’ve got to do it now. We’ve got to play the kid. I’m convinced he’s got ‘it.’” Impressed with Pettine’s conviction, Haslam looked Pettine in the eye and said, “OK, I trust you. You’re my coach. Make it happen.” And after the torch was passed to Johnny Manziel, the Browns’ fortunes changed. Within hours, the NFL announced that Manziel was cleared of any wrongdoing in a heavily mis-reported domestic incident with his girlfriend. In fact, the league commended Manziel for saving his exhausted girlfriend from slipping out the passenger door of his vehicle when she fell asleep after a long day of studying for multiple bar exams. In the NFL review of the matter, Commissioner Roger Goodell personally nominated Manziel for NFL Man of the Year. Always the last player to leave the Browns’ facility as the backup quarterback, Manziel became a maniacal film studier as the starter and face of the team. He canceled previous bye week plans to return to Texas to distribute food baskets to orphans and holed up in the team’s facility for five days in a row. He was a quarterback possessed with one self-less goal – sacrificing his personal life and marketing opportunities to lead the Browns to the Super Bowl. He even donated his Cavaliers season tickets to under-privileged boys and girls who had perfect attendance and attained A grades in Cleveland public schools. On the field, Manziel quickly displayed not only the play-making skills but also the football acumen boldfaced in scouting reports written by Browns talent sleuth Ray Farmer, furthering Farmer’s reputation as the NFL’s next prominent quarterback guru. Opponents fell victim to Manziel’s ability to read the defense at the line of scrimmage and uncannily change the play to the right one to beat it at an amazing rate. Under Manziel’s direction, the Browns not only destroyed opponents with pinpoint passing but also a new-found running game that submitted foes in the fourth quarter. The only criticism of Manziel’s game was his reluctance to leave the pocket when running room was evident. “I have so many play-makers on this team, I feel I would be abusing the position by not distributing the ball to them,” Manziel said. During Manziel’s first outing as the undisputed full-time starter, a 35-21 surgical procedure on the Baltimore Ravens on ESPN’s “Monday Night Football,” analyst Jon Gruden flatly predicted, “Johnny Manziel will win a Super Bowl before I return to coaching.” Accolades flowed from everywhere as Manziel racked up win after win. ESPN analyst Merril Hoge, formerly Manziel’s nemesis, said he had never seen a player make such a transformation as Manziel. “I don’t know how I missed on him, but I am here to tell you he is the real deal,” Hoge said. After running the table in his six-game stint as full-time starter, Manziel said, “We have a lot of work to do. I intend to live full-time in Cleveland and lead my teammates in informal workouts until we get back to work as a team in April.” The icing: Two days after the conclusion of the 2015 season, Haslam extended the contracts of Farmer and Pettine. Farmer then went to work to surround Manziel with the best possible receivers. He started by signing receiver Travis Benjamin and tight end Gary Barnidge to new contracts and keep them off the free agent market. Farmer then shocked the world by finagling a trade with the overmatched Tampa Bay Buccaneers for receiver Mike Evans, the former teammate of Manziel’s at Texas A&M, and also welcomed back Josh Gordon, who was formally reinstated by Goodell for exemplary behavior during his “indefinite” suspension. Farmer said he never wavered in refusing trade offers for Gordon from the Patriots, which put a full-court press on Farmer. New England’s trade package included the return of Browns apparel and classified analytics data stolen by former Browns assistant GM Mike Lombardi in 2014. “You can never have enough great receivers,” Farmer said. The Browns were established as preseason AFC favorites to reach the Super Bowl by most of the 2016 season preview magazines. Peter King of themmqb.com wrote, “With Manziel maturing into his third NFL season and with the weapons Farmer has collected, the Browns will be a powerhouse and outlast the Detroit Lions in Super Bowl 51.” King was right on, of course. At the post-game Vince Lombardi Trophy presentation, Manziel gave credit to his offensive line and to Pettine for believing in him “from the beginning.” That was also the theme at the victory celebration back in Cleveland. Hoge, the honorary emcee of the event, noted that the key to everything was Pettine making the then-unpopular decision to promote Manziel to the starter’s role. “That’s why we drafted him,” Pettine said.