The helmet spike was poetic in a way. Not just in the Dwayne Rudd-Kansas City-last-second-OH-MY-GOD-THEY-MIGHT-WIN-OH-NO-NEVERMIND way, but in that Johhny Manziel: Ultra competitor way. Coming out of college over a year ago, Manziel was short and had questionable decision making, but he was a lot of fun to watch and he was a competitor. This, in professional sports, tends to be a code word for “guy who tries hard and wants to win, but might not have all of the physical skills of his peers.” Stories of him on the golf course paint him in a way that would make pleated pants around the world burst at the seams. He hurls wedges, spikes cell phones. But in a different setting, he discusses the same game, but in a way that would paint others as the overly competitive ones. In a Golf Digest interview, he claimed to be afraid of his father’s reaction in the event he would have beaten him in an 18-hole round.
Throughout the entire Sunday against the Kansas City Chiefs, the Browns were behind the eight ball. They were 10.5-point underdogs heading in to Arrowhead Stadium, one of the tougher places to play for any visiting team. Manziel had had an up-and-down season, but would be taking on his penultimate audition for a job—somewhere—and would be doing so without so much in the way of a wide receiver north of 5-10. (Dwayne Bowe was active, but this was simply so he could be team captain against his former team.) During the game, the Browns were unable to score points, largely due to Manziel’s inability to find his receivers with accuracy, throwing the balls over heads of targets and then one just a bit short and into the hands of a defender. But then the switch flipped and Manziel said eff-it—Johnny Football was back in the same way that Bruce Banner dusts off the Batman regalia in The Dark Knight Returns. There was no Alfred and no money sign, but Manziel quickly dumped the learn-on-the-fly pocket presence for a guy who just wanted to freaking win a football game and was going to do whatever it damn well took to do it, running around like he was wearing wine and white instead of orange and brown, bouncing off of offensive linemen, breaking the ankles of linebackers and then diving head first to get that extra yard.
But as has been the case of the Manziel era in Cleveland, there was an element that proved to foil the plans. This time, the clock. Needing a touchdown with zeroes nearing, the whistles blew as No. 2 frantically scrambled behind center Alex Mack in hopes of receiving a snapped ball to spike. Instead, he received a fist full of his own ear holes, where the natural reaction—not having a phone nor a golf club—was to plant his headwear into the earth.
All winners compete, but not all competitors win.
LOSER: Johnny Manziel’s arm
OK, so Johnny Manziel the passer was pretty much atrocious. I’m not even talking about the statistics—Alex Smith threw for fewer yards, completing just one more pass. Manziel was off-target for a good portion of the day, missing a wide open Gary Barnidge early and sailing a four-quarter pass over the head of Travis Benjamin late. I maintain that this is one part a young quarterback still trying to grow as a passer (there’s a reason he only threw a dozen passes in that win over Tennessee) coupled with the fact that the Browns have no No. 1 receiver under contract let alone healthy. Pro Football Focus rated Manziel’s passing in Week 15 as the worst they have ever calculated, and this includes Brandon Weeden’s Week 1 in 2012 where he had a passer rating of 5.1. Not good.
But knowing he didn’t have it going in the passing game, and the Chiefs providing a ton of pressure to force errant passes, Manziel made it work on his feet, scrambling for 108 yards on 11 carries, moving the chains when needed. Yes, the Browns fell seconds short of being able to get off a potential game-winning play, but that drive would not have happened if not for Manziel being able to get the yardage needed on a crucial 11-yard gain with 1:20 left on the clock. That drive itself would not have mattered if Manziel would not have been able to get the four yards needed at midfield to ultimately get the Browns in field goal range early in the fourth quarter.
To a man, Manziel foreshadowed PFF and gave himself a sub-par grade on the afternoon.
“I’m definitely shouldering a lot for this loss,” said Manziel. “This is weighing [on me]. Regardless of what our record is, where we are in the season, it sucks not to win, especially when our coach and the other 10 guys put us in position to try to get in the end zone there at the end. I just felt like I didn’t do the right thing in crunch time. That’s the moral of the entire story of the game.
“You’ve got to give a lot of credit to our defense in the second half,” he said. “I thought we put some good drives together but when it came down to it, I don’t think I was good enough in crunch time today. I thought I was extremely sub-par and cost us some points.”
Look, passing to Mitchell Schwartz in the red zone was not a good move. But he also did things in the game that gave the Browns a chance to win. While he didn’t exactly execute flawlessly, the fourth quarter was a ton of fun to watch—something we haven’t been able to say all to often in 2015.
WINNER: Mitchell Schwartz
This may have been the big man’s best game of the season, coming just days after his Pro Bowl snub. He was great once again in run blocking and took advantage of a depleted Chiefs pass rush by allowing next to nothing in the way of a hurry. Conversely…
There’s not much more that can be said at this point. Overall the offensive line allowed no sacks and no hits, but 10 hurries—four of which were on Erving. Here’s hoping the fron office knows something we don’t.
WINNERS: Browns front seven
There was a point where the Chiefs went for it on fourth down without so much as blinking, and it had appeared that it was going to be a long day. The Browns gave up a ton of first-half yardage to Alex Smith in the most frustrating of fashion, but what had typically been a brutal unit only allowed 17 points on the afternoon and gave the offense a chance to bring things home. Nate Orchard (more on him later) finished with three defensive stops, a sack, and an interception on the day. Paul Kruger, despite that incredibly dumb off-sides call that extended KC’s first scoring drive, hurried Alex Smith four times on the day. I went into the game wondering how the Browns would limit the Chiefs’ offense due to their host of playmakers. They surprised me and held up their end of the bargain. That’s a win.
LOSERS: Browns secondary
Donte Whitner had a solid day in terms of stopping the run and containing on the interior, but the rest of his defensive back teammates were abused early in this one when Jeremy Maclin screamed past them on a seam route from the slot.
I can’t blame Tashaun Gipson for being pissed following this touchdown, but if you take a look at the Maclin video above, it’s Gip who’s laying in the end zone as Maclin has the ball in the back of it for six points. Glass houses and stuff.
While some think of trick plays as a sign of desperation, kudos to Tabor (who’s gotten his fair share of beatings in these columns over the season) on having the balls to make this call. Kudos to Poyer who, in addition to a few special teams tackles, executed the play perfectly and got the yardage that was needed for the first down.
Crow will likely fall through the cracks as everyone will want to discuss what Johnny Manziel did on the ground, but the dude had a solid day, tallying just shy of 90 yards on the ground with just 16 carries. He busted out a 28-yard run early in the contest and then found the end zone for the fourth time this season.
He’s grouped in with the winners above, but man—if you’re the QB spy, you can’t give up a run like this on a huge third down.
It’s these types of plays that have destroyed this team, their inability to get off of the field despite doing their jobs on first and second down. Picking nits perhaps, but this game may turn out much, much different if not for the first-half inability to stop Smith from extending drives.
WINNER: Nate Orchard
Dude gets his own spot here. In addition to his stops, that okie-doke he pulled on the interception, pulling the ball from Craig Robertson as if they were running a zone-read and then taking it down the sideline with receiver-like quickness was fun to watch. Letting Jabaal Sheard go to New England (where he’s killing it), the Browns desperately need this kid to shine. Perhaps he was just late blooming this season, but the growth in his game over these few weeks has been noticeable. Now, it just needs to keep going.
LOSER: Ray Farmer
Permanently here until the Browns obtain playmaking wide receivers who also happen to be north of six feet tall. FOX airing the Panthers-Falcons game in the Cleveland market, wherein Julio Jones hauled in a host of passes for 175 yards and a touchdown merely served as salt in the wounds. Get playmakers. Now.