Talk about not living up to the hype.
The duel between Browns quarterbacks Brian Hoyer and Johnny Manziel in a 24-23 loss to Washington on Monday night at FedExField disappointed in almost unimaginable fashion because neither player made significant strides or a strong case he should become the starter heading into the upcoming season.
The veteran and rookie combined to deliver perhaps the biggest dud since the Y2K scare. Despite all the hoopla, nothing of much importance happened with the Browns’ top two quarterbacks in the team’s second preseason game.
The most-talked-about moment came when Manziel was caught on camera sticking his middle finger in the air, a gesture aimed at his opponents, late in the third quarter.
“It does not sit well,” Browns coach Mike Pettine said. “I was informed of it after the game. It’s disappointing because what we talk about is being poised and being focused, that you have to be able to maintain your poise. That’s a big part of all football players, especially the quarterback. We have to keep our composure. That’s something we’ll obviously address.”
Hoyer and Manziel’s prime-time showdown, nationally televised on ESPN’s Monday Night Football, was supposed to be their final audition before a victor was scheduled to be declared.
The Browns planned to meet Tuesday to choose one of the them as the starter for the Sept. 7 regular-season opener at Pittsburgh.
But why wouldn’t Pettine call an audible and force the quarterback derby into overtime after Monday night’s debacle? After the game, he wouldn’t rule it out.
“It’s still something we’d like to do,” Pettine said of possibly making a decision Tuesday. “We’ll see.”
Could the Browns wait until after their next exhibition game to select a starter?
“It’s possible,” Pettine said. “I think all of the options are on the table.”
Pettine has said a committee led by him, offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan and quarterbacks coach Dowell Loggains will make the decision. Pettine made it clear he would exercise his power to break a tie should one occur.
There was a tie Monday night, but it was a dead heat in futility.
Pettine has said all along he wants to name a starting quarterback before the team’s third exhibition game Saturday against St. Louis. He wants the starter to have an opportunity to build chemistry with his supporting cast during a “dress rehearsal” in which the first-team offense will likely play into the third quarter in preparation for Week 1.
Right now, there is no semblance of cohesion on offense. The Browns squandered several opportunities to capitalize on the playmaking abilities of their defense and trailed 7-3 at halftime.
Hoyer and Manziel played so poorly some observers are wondering whether the Browns would be better off scrambling to find a new starting quarterback.
“That’s not a choice,” Pettine said. “Somebody has to be ready for the opener.”
Manziel’s inability to keep his cool during the game certainly didn’t help him convince the coaching staff he’s the answer right now. ESPN reported he is subject to an NFL fine worth as much as $11,025 for flipping the bird.
“I get words exchanged with me throughout the entirety of the game, every game, week after week,” Manziel said. “I should’ve been smarter. It was a Monday Night Football game. The cameras were probably solidly on me, so I just need to be smarter about that.
“I just need to let it slide off my back and go to the next play. I felt like I did a good job of holding my composure throughout the night and you have a lapse of judgment and slip up.”
Browns Pro Bowl cornerback Joe Haden said Manziel was provoked but also added, “I wouldn’t have did it” when asked about the gesture.
“If you stand on our sideline, it’s so bad. The whole time, everybody was talking, just the worst things you could ever imagine about Johnny,” Haden said. “I was next to him a lot of times on the sideline. He gets a lot of grief. You’ve just got to try to not listen to it.
“That’s from everybody. Their bench, their fans, everybody. There’s a lot going on. There’s a lot of pressure on him. Just people talking. It can get a little bit overwhelming.
“He gets a lot of attention. There’s a lot of people that just scream out things that are very, very disrespectful. You’ve just got to zone it out.”
So, in a span of a week, Manziel was late to a team meeting and flipped off his opponents. Asked if he thought those two incidents might be factors in his tight race with Hoyer, Manziel said, “No, no, no, no.”
Added Pettine: “It’s whoever gives us the best chance to win the opener will be the starter.”
At this point, neither Hoyer nor Manziel appears capable of slaying the Steelers.
Is Hoyer pressing?
“It’s hard to tell,” Pettine said. “I know he missed some throws. They both missed some throws. [Manziel] made some plays, but he left a couple of plays on the field, threw a couple of balls low, threw behind some receivers. There was definitely stuff that needs to be cleaned up.”
Hoyer appeared to be a slight front-runner over Manziel heading into the game, and he received the starting nod. Hoyer played four series, plus one play at the end of the second quarter. He faced Washington’s first-team defense during his first two series and backups the rest of the way.
Hoyer completed just 2-of-6 passes for 16 yards. His longest pass went for 12 yards, and he finished with a passer rating of 42.4.
Does Hoyer think he has fallen victim to pressing?
“No, I don’t think so at all. I don’t think I am,” Hoyer said. “Things in a game are a little different than a practice. So it’s not anything that it’s pressing. If I’m thinking about trying to make the perfect throw, it’s not going to (happen). I’ve just got to go out and do it, and there’s no excuse for it.”
Manziel entered the game with 5:26 left in the second quarter after Hoyer took the first two series. He played two series in the first half, both of which were against Washington’s starters, and completed 2-of-7 passes for 29 yards and a rating of 44.3.
Manziel remained in the game until undrafted rookie Connor Shaw replaced him with 9:46 left in the fourth quarter. Manziel went 5-of-9 passing in the second half while surrounded by backups and going against backups.
Overall, Manziel completed 7-of-16 passes for 65 yards and a touchdown, finishing with a passer rating of 76.3. He ran once for a 1-yard loss.
“I don’t think I did a very good job today,” Manziel said. “I think there was a lot of room for me to improve, some throws that I wish I would’ve had back. But I’m not sure. That’s really up to Coach Pettine and the higher powers than it is me. I think I just need to come in every day and continue to try to get better. ... I’m hard on myself, and I think I need to get a lot better.
“I think with my play in college, I set the bar very high for myself. So people are going to expect what I did in college consistently. But it’s a different league, it’s a different level, it’s a different team, it’s a completely different environment for me. I just need to continue to get better and hopefully one day, be able to do some of the things that I did in college at that level.”
Manziel dumped a short pass over the middle to running back Dion Lewis, allowing Lewis to run for an 8-yard touchdown with 13:33 left in the fourth quarter, trimming the Browns’ deficit to 14-10. Safety Jim Leonhard’s 19-yard interception return for a touchdown off a pass from former Browns quarterback Colt McCoy gave the Browns a 17-14 advantage with 12:19 left in the fourth quarter.
But a 26-yard field goal by Kai Forbath tied the score with 9:46 left, and McCoy’s 30-yard touchdown pass to receiver Nick Williams gave Washington a seven-point advantage with 2:01 remaining. Williams’ score was a result of Browns cornerback Royce Adams being beaten in coverage and surrendering his second touchdown of the night.
The Browns scored a 45-yard touchdown as time expired when Shaw’s pass was tipped by receiver Willie Snead and caught in the end zone by tight end Emmanuel Ogbuehi. But instead kicking an extra point, tying the score 24-24 and entering a dreadful preseason overtime period, Pettine elected to go for two. Shaw threw a high pass toward receiver Charles Johnson in the end zone that fell incomplete.
Aside from Lewis’ touchdown in garbage time, neither Hoyer nor Manziel received much help from the rest of the offense.
The Browns’ first possession was a disaster because linebacker Ryan Kerrigan zoomed untouched around right tackle Mitchell Schwartz and sacked Hoyer. Pro Bowl left tackle Joe Thomas was flagged for a false start before the next snap. On second-and-21 at the Browns’ 9-yard line, Pro Bowl tight end Jordan Cameron wasn’t looking for the ball and failed to catch it. Not even a 19-yard run from running back Ben Tate, who finished with 10 carries for 51 yards (5.1 average), could save the Browns from punting.
“It just kind of spiraled out of control,” Hoyer said. “We were never really able to get things going. So it’s unfortunate, especially with the situation that we’re in.”
The Browns caught a break during the ensuing possession when running back Alfred Morris fumbled and inside linebacker Craig Robertson recovered at Washington’s 48. The Browns, though, went three-and-out when Hoyer’s third-down pass to slot receiver Andrew Hawkins was thrown low.
Browns Pro Bowl cornerback Joe Haden intercepted a pass from quarterback Robert Griffin III during the next series and returned 37 yards to Washington’s 46. But the Browns went three-and-out again. On third down, Kerrigan sacked Manziel. Linebacker Brian Orakpo flashed Manziel’s signature money sign after the play, and it wasn’t the first time he flaunted it.
The Browns completed a goal-line stand early in the fourth quarter. Robertson tackled Morris short of the end zone, which a replay review confirmed, on fourth-and-goal from the 1. The offense marched to Washington’s 39, but Manziel’s third-down pass to All-Pro wide receiver Josh Gordon was off target and fell incomplete.
Browns free safety Tashaun Gipson picked off a pass from backup quarterback Kirk Cousins and returned it 43 yards to Washington’s 15. The Browns settled for Billy Cundiff’s 29-yard field goal and a 3-0 lead with 4:58 left in the second quarter after Hoyer threw an off-target pass that went off Hawkins’ hands in the end zone.
“I’ve got to make better throws,” Hoyer said. “I’ve got to put it right on Hawk in the end zone. That should’ve been touchdown. There’s no excuse for that.”
Washington’s offense struck late in the first half. Running back Evan Royster barreled through Robertson and scored a 2-yard touchdown with 23 seconds remaining in the second quarter. Washington tacked on another touchdown and took a 14-3 lead with 10:39 left in the third quarter when Cousins completed a 14-yard touchdown pass to Grant, who beat the coverage of Adams.
Nate Ulrich can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Read the Browns blog at www.ohio.com/browns. Follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/NateUlrichABJ and on Facebook www.facebook.com/abj.sports.
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