How does Johnny Manziel’s first start stack up in NFL history?

NFL: Cincinnati Bengals at Cleveland Browns

I’m sure every single one of you has heard something about Johnny Manziel, and I’m pretty sure every single one of you has either heard about or saw his first start against the Cincinnati Bengals: a total disaster. The Browns got buried as the Bengals ran it up, sacking Manziel frequently and hitting him after the ball was released, all the while flashing the “money” sign Johnny Football made famous during his time at A&M.

Although Manziel’s first start was terrible, there have been lots of others that were crappy as well. Here are some of the worse performances by a lot of better quarterbacks in their first career start.

  • 1998 – Peyton Manning: Peyton Manning’s first start actually came in Week 1 of the 1998 season, at home against a particularly tough Miami Dolphin defense. Although Manning threw for 302 yards, a lot of them were accumulated trying to catch up as Manning also threw 3 interceptions, only 1 touchdown and was sacked 4 times.
  • 1970 – Terry Bradshaw: Bradshaw was drafted in 1970 by the Steelers, who had finished 1-13 in 1969. In his first start, Bradshaw didn’t even finish the game, as he completed 4 of 16 passes for 70 yards and an interception. He also took a safety.
  • 1989 – Troy Aikman: Troy Aikman, as good as he was for as long as he played, his 1989 rookie season is used as an example for how it’s not supposed to go. In the first game of the season against New Orleans, Aikman went 17 of 35 passing for 180 yards and 2 interceptions. He was also sacked twice, leading to a 28-0 Cowboys shutout. Beware, Johnny Football, for if you’re anything like Troy Aikman, get ready for a bumpy ride: the former lost his first 11 starts.
  • 1985 – Randall Cunningham: Although Randall Cunningham wasn’t one of the best ever, he was still pretty good. His first professional appearance came in Week 1, after Ron Jaworski was pulled. Cunningham completed only one of 7 passes for 24 yards and an interception, and was sacked eight times. In Week 2, Cunningham started his first game, and completed 14 of 34 passes for 211 yards, no touchdowns and 4 interceptions. He was sacked 5 times.
  • 1971 – Dan Pastorini: Dan Pastorini is far from an elite quarterback, but he played well for Houston…sometimes. In a Week 2 game against Kansas City, Pastorini produced a “Joe Flacco Road Game Special” by completing 10 of 21 passes for 156 yards, 1 touchdown and 2 interceptions. He is the only quarterback thus far apart from Peyton Manning to throw a touchdown pass in his first start.
  • 1993 – Drew Bledsoe: Drew Bledsoe’s first NFL start was middling. It wasn’t good, it wasn’t bad, it was sort of…middling. He completed 14 of 30 passes for 2 touchdowns, an interception and 148 yards. He was sacked 3 times.
  • 1983 – John Elway: John Elway followed the Randall Cunnigham path, although he didn’t pull a complete Geno Smith in his first actual start. In the first two games of the season, Elway made appearances in both. In these two games, he completed 10 of 29 passes for 120 yards, no touchdowns and an interception. He was sacked 12 times in these games. His first start came in Week 3 against Philadelphia, and he completed 18 of 33 passes for 193 yards, a touchdown and two interceptions. He was sacked three times.
  • 1984 – Boomer Esiason: Boomer Esiason didn’t make his first career start until Week 6 of the 1984 season. In a game against the 3-13 Oilers, he completed 13 of 24 passes for 159 yards, 0 touchdowns and 2 interceptions.
  • 1985 – Bernie Kosar: Bernie Kosar actually appeared in some games before his Week 6 start against the Oilers, without any notable stats except a -10 yard rushing attempt against New England. Against the Oilers, Kosar completed only 8 of 19 passes for 208 yards, a touchdown and an interception.

So, what do we learn from this? All quarterbacks, even the successful ones, typically have trouble in their rookie seasons. I don’t think Johnny Manziel will be a great quarterback, I think he’ll be good, but a struggle in his first year is to be expected. Sure, a 10 of 18 afternoon for 80 yards, no touchdowns, two interceptions and 3 sacks is pretty bad, but it can be excused in an inexperienced quarterback’s first ever outing.


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