Cleveland Browns quarterback Johnny Manziel (2) throws the ball over Washington Redskins cornerback Tracy Porter (22) in the third quarter at FedEx Field. The Redskins won 24-23. (USA TODAY Sports: Geoff Burke)
LANDOVER, Md. — Cleveland Browns coach Mike Pettine came into Monday’s game 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 in Cleveland’s 24-23 loss to the Washington Redskins Monday night, leaving the Browns in a quandary.
Manziel was just 7-for-16 passing, and got more attention for his actions than his play. He managed to create some controversy by extending his middle finger toward the Washington Redskins bench after a third-quarter incompletion.
He was not penalized for his action, but the NFL may fine him after reviewing his actions on tape.
“I should’ve been smarter,” Manziel said of his gesture. “It was a Monday Night Football game — the cameras were probably solidly on me.”
This incident did not endear him to his coach.
“It does not sit well… disappointing,” Pettine said. “You have to be able to maintain your poise.”
The gesture occurred with 2:28 left in the third quarter. After a second-and-7 pass attempt fell incomplete, Manziel trotted back to the huddle and extended his right finger over his shoulder toward the Redskins’ bench as if reacting to something that was said.
Earlier in the game, after outside linebacker Ryan Kerrigan sacked Manziel in the first quarter, Washington linebacker Brian Orakpo mocked Manziel’s “money” hand gesture he made last season.
“Just having a little fun, just welcoming him to the NFL,” Orakpo said. “He’s a great player. He’s going to be a good one for ‘em. 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.”
Pettine is left with the task of determining a starting quarterback.
“All options are on the table,” Pettine said when asked about pushing back his decision on a quarterback. “Somebody’s got to be ready for the opener.”
Neither Manziel, who became the first freshman to win the Heisman Trophy in 2012, nor sixth-year journeyman Hoyer had distinguished himself in Cleveland’s 13-12 loss to Detroit in its Aug. 9 preseason opener either.
On Monday, Hoyer finished 2-for-6 for 16 yards. Manziel, who got equal time against Washington’s starting defense before playing the entire third quarter, passed for just 65 yards, the last eight yards coming on a toss to running back Dion Lewis for a 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.
The Browns took a 17-14 lead when veteran safety Jim Leonard 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.
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 Monday were ugly. He did not seem to be 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 yards, 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 one-yard loss, another Cameron drop and an ugly throw behind 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.