CLEVELAND — Ready or not, here comes the regular season.
Ready? Or not? We won’t know until Sept. 7, but the Cleveland Browns at very least got some good work and created some good vibes in Thursday night’s preseason finale.
Because they needed that work, the offensive starters for the Browns played one series. They got a little of everything in that series, and most importantly they finished that series with a touchdown.
There was much rejoicing, and that’s OK.
"It was great to get out there and just move right down the field," Browns quarterback Brian Hoyer said.
Move the Browns did, covering 85 yards in 13 plays before Ben Tate ran behind the left side of the line for a short touchdown. Starting at cornerback for the Bears were C.J. Wilson and Al Louis-Jean, both of whom are listed as fourth-team cornerbacks on the Bears official depth chart. The Bears played no starters.
"We said tonight wasn’t about them," Hoyer said. "It was about us. Regardless of who’s playing for them … they were nameless and faceless opponents … we just wanted to go out and make everything about us. It’s good to go down and have an 85-yard drive and just execute and get in the end zone.
"It’s what we expect of ourselves."
Perspective is important, but so was the work. The Browns had to play their starters because coach Mike Pettine understandably didn’t like what he’d seen from them over the first three preseason series.
Maybe what sealed it being a one-series night for Pettine was the roughing the passer call on Bears second-team safety M.D. Jennings on fourth down and goal. Hoyer’s pass to fullback Ray Agnew was complete for a first down anyway, but Hoyer didn’t need to take that shot.
All 32 NFL teams played Thursday night. Hoyer was one of four starting quarterbacks who played.
"He was sharp, made some good throws, made the right reads," Pettine said of Hoyer. "It was good to see our guys make some plays down the field."
Making actual plays down the field remains a concern area — Taylor Gabriel’s 21-yard reception was Hoyer’s longest completion of the preseason since a 27-yard catch and run by fullback Marqueis Gray in the preseason opener — but for now, just making plays counts as progress. Not that anybody will remember, but the Browns finally won a preseason game, too, 33-13.
"It just shows us what we’re capable of," Hoyer said. "That’s what has been the frustrating part this preseason; to go out there and just do it against a different team is important. It’s a good feeling heading out of the preseason."
Next stop on this optimism train: Heinz Field for that opener against the Pittsburgh Steelers.
"I’m thrilled because the checklist we had tonight, we accomplished," Pettine said. "It didn’t matter what they were doing. It was about us. I just think we accomplished a lot of things tonight. We moved the ball. We were much better on defense than we were last week."
The Browns also saw a little of everything from Johnny Manziel, who mixed bad throws with good ones and made plays with his feet in playing what amounted to almost a half. Manziel finished 6-of-17 for 83 yards with a 1-yard touchdown pass to Jim Dray that capped an 80-yard drive.
The Manziel touchdown drive would have never happened if not for a terrible pass interference penalty — the act was terrible, not the call — on a Manziel duck to Travis Benjamin along the sideline. His numbers would have been better had the perfect strike he threw on the run on his first play not been dropped by Gary Barnidge.
Manziel also ran for 55 yards on four carries. His touchdown pass came while rolling left and throwing back to his right.
"Johnny being Johnny," Pettine said. "A couple of those plays were, ‘No, no, no, yes,’ but that’s what he does. That, to me, is what he brings to the table. He just needs to get more comfortable in his reads, take the easy throws that are there. He’s certainly shown why he has the reputation that he does."
Next up for the Browns is a difficult weekend of roster cuts and probably some additions. Soon after will be putting together a game plan for Hoyer — and maybe even a little of Manziel — to take on the Steelers. There’s a lot of film to be watched; there are lots of discussions to have and decisions to make, too.