Cleveland Browns coach Mike Pettine came to Washington planning to announce his quarterback for the regular-season opener in the next couple of days. However, neither highly-touted rookie Johnny Manziel nor holdover Brian Hoyer played very well against the Redskins Monday night, leaving the Browns in a quandary.
Neither Manziel, who became the first freshman to win the Heisman Trophy in 2012, nor sixth-year journeyman Hoyer had distinguished themselves in Cleveland's 13-12 loss to Detroit in its Aug. 9 preseason opener either.
Hoyer finished 2-for-6 for 16 yards. Manziel, who got equal time against Washington's starting defense before playing the entire third quarter, was 7-for-16 for 65 yards, the last eight yards coming on a toss to running back Dion Lewis for the touchdown that closed the Browns' deficit to 14-10 with 13:33 remaining. That 16-play, 68-yard drive consumed 8:15 and might have been huge for the rookie who posted a 76.3 passer rating on the night.
Manziel was 5-of-14 for 49 yards before completing his final two passes. He was also sacked three times. Hoyer went down once while posting a 42.2 passer rating.
Then, Manziel made headlines for all the wrong reasons when he extended his middle finger toward the Redskins bench after he threw an incomplete pass near the Washington sideline in the third quarter.
Earlier in the game, Redskins linebacker Brian Orakpo mocked Manziel's famous "money" hand gesture after fellow Pro Bowl outside linebacker Ryan Kerrigan sacked Manziel in the first quarter.
Said Orakpo, "Just having a little fun, just welcoming him to the NFL. He's a great player. He's going to be a good one for them. He's still got a lot to learn, still got some growing pains, but ... he's a playmaker. Our defense was a great test for him."
As for the middle finger salute, Pettine said, "Yeah, that doesn't sit well. I was informed right after the game and I'm disappointed. We talk about being poised, being focused. You have to be able to maintain your poise. It's a big part of all football players, especially the quarterback. We have to keep our composure and that is something that we will obviously address."
Said Manziel, "I had words exchanged with me throughout the entirety of the game, every game, week after week. I should have been smarter. It was a Monday Night Football game and the cameras were probably solidly on me, and I need to be smarter about that.
"With me, since my name has grown bigger and people have known who I am, it just continues to go as the games continue to go on. I don't know if there is a single level of severity each game, but I know it's there and it's present every game. I just need to let it slide off my back and go to the next play. I feel like I did a good job of holding my composure throughout the night and you have a lapse of judgment and slip up."
The Browns took a 17-14 lead when veteran safety Jim Leonhard intercepted Redskins third-string quarterback Colt McCoy's first pass and returned it 19 yards for a touchdown with 12:19 to go.
Pettine, a defensive specialist, will surely rely heavily on offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan in making the choice between the headier, less talented Hoyer or Manziel, who has a bigger upside but much less of a handle on the offense.
After the game, when asked if he might delay the decision on who the starting quarterback will be, Pettine acknowledged, "All options are on the table. (But) somebody's got to be ready for the opener."
Although he might not even start for a team that went 4-12 last season, Manziel is already one of the NFL's most scrutinized players because of his extraordinary athletic gifts and his well-publicized love for nightlife. In the first two-plus months after the Browns drafted the former Texas A&M star, Manziel's jersey was the league's top seller.
Hoyer's first two series were ugly. He was seemingly not ready for the first snap and was sacked for a 6-yard loss. Tight end Jordan Cameron dropped Hoyer's pass on the next play before a draw preceded a punt. When the Browns got the ball back, Ben Tate ran twice before receiver Andrew Hawkins couldn't hold Hoyer's low throw.
Manziel didn't start any better when he took over for Cleveland's third series. After Tate gained five, Manziel threw behind running back Isaiah Crowell on second down before he was dropped by Kerrigan to force a punt.
Manziel's second series, which began at the Washington 1-yard line, was better. He hit tight end MarQueis Gray with a screen for 17 yards and neatly fit in a 12-yard completion to Hawkins while on the run. However, Manziel's next three plays were a 1-yard loss, another Cameron drop and an ugly throw behind standout receiver Josh Gordon.
Hoyer then took over again to get some work against Washington's backups. Fortunately, the Browns had the ball at the Redskins' 15 after a 43-yard interception return because Hoyer and Co. managed just three yards before Billy Cundiff kicked a 29-yard field goal to give Cleveland a 3-0 lead with 4:58 remaining in the first half.
When Hoyer finally completed a pass after six incompletions, Gray fumbled and the Redskins recovered.
--Coach Mike Pettine was not happy about a fight that broke out in practice Saturday. He responded by making the entire team run wind sprints -- even those not involved in the skirmish.
"I just thought it went a little too far," Pettine said. "I understand and have spoken on fights before. That's going to happen sometimes. That's the price of doing business, but I thought we got out of the realm of being good teammates. Also, I just think overall practice, to that point, I thought was a little too sloppy for my liking. It was kind of a culmination of the sloppiness and then the length of the fight. The thing I was pleased about was how they responded after. I thought they were sharp. They were focused. They practiced how they should, but I just told them after that we don't need a traumatic event to kind of snap us back into place, that we need to be mature enough and professional enough to be able to handle tough circumstances and practice well."
---Cornerback Buster Skrine will likely miss the rest of the preseason with a thumb injury. Skrine had been a pleasant surprise in training camp.
"I'm not sure how long he'll be, but we think he should be available for the opener," Pettine said. "He injured his thumb, but we're confident that he should be ready to go for Pittsburgh."
First-round draft pick Justin Gilbert could benefit from Skrine's injury by getting more chances to play.
--John Greco might have pulled ahead of Garrett Gilkey in the race to start at right guard. Greco started against the Lions and was part of an offensive line that kept Brian Hoyer clean. Hoyer was not sacked nor was he knocked down.
--Travis Benjamin was held from the Lions game but when he the regular season starts will return kicks and punts, special teams coach Chris Tabor said. Benjamin's left ACL was torn returning a punt against Kansas City last year. Head coach Mike Pettine decided to rest Benjamin in Detroit.
"He's obviously an explosive weapon," Tabor said. "We're in the business of winning games and he gives you the opportunity for a big play. You can't play this game scared and you can't coach this game scared. He's healthy, he's running well, he's catching the ball well and to me he appears very fast."
Taylor Gabriel returned punts and kicks in Benjamin's absence.
--Armonty Bryant, a defensive end in his second season, made a case for more playing time with two tackles for loss. He tackled Mikel Leshoure for a one-yard loss in the first quarter. He also shared in a nine-yard sack of quarterback Dan Orlovsky.
BATTLE OF THE WEEK: Ben Tate vs. Terrance West at running back - Tate dominated early in training camp when the pads went on, but West has shown he will not go meekly. Even if Tate does win the starting job, West has showed he deserves more than a handful of carries.
West showed a burst and slick moves on a 10-yard run against the Lions. Tate will get most of his yardage between the tackles. He shot through left guard for an eight-yard gain in the first quarter.
Tate finished the preseason opener with 25 yards rushing on six carries. West rushed for 22 yards on 10 carries and caught a pass for eight yards.
However it plays out, the Browns are far, far ahead of where they were last year at running back when Willis McGahee was their leading rusher.
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
--DE Desmond Bryant is seeking a second opinion on a wrist injury. Surgery might be required, coach Mike Pettine said.
--WR Josh Gordon returned to practice Saturday and might play against the Redskins. He missed four practices with an abdominal injury.
--WR Nate Burleson missed practice and will not play against the Redskins.
--CB Aaron Berry (groin) did not practice.
--T Michael Bowie (shoulder) did not practice and is likely headed to injured reserve.
--CB Pierre Desir (knee) did not practice.
--LB Darius Eubanks (shoulder) did not practice.
--OL Paul McQuistan (ankle) did not practice.
--LB Keith Pough (ankle) did not practice.
--DB Isaiah Trufant (knee) did not practice.
--DB K'Waun Williams (hamstring) did not practice.
--LB Eric Martin (concussion) did not practice.
--OL Paul McQuistan (ankle) did not practice.
--LB Keith Pough (ankle) did not practice.
--CB Isaiah Trufant (knee) did not practice.
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