Johnny Manziel makes CFL debut in Hamilton’s exhibition loss

HAMILTON, Ontario (AP) — Johnny Manziel was content with his first time in a game in more than two years.

Manziel was 9-of-12 passing for 80 yards in his CFL debut as the Hamilton Tiger-Cats lost 36-18 to the Toronto Argonauts in an exhibition game Friday night.

“I felt like I was able to get in there and handle the situation well, get some completions and get the guys some balls,” Manziel said. “I really wasn’t nervous going into it, I was just kind of going out and letting the ball rip.

“Right now we’re still in preseason so we’ll get a little bit more tailor-made for the team and defense and what they do and scheme against them. I think that’ll help us moving forward.”

Manziel, playing for the first time since being released by the NFL’s Cleveland Browns in March 2016, , faced a Toronto defense that was missing most of its starters and Hamilton coach June Jones was very conservative in his play-calling. The six-foot, 210-pound Manziel, who signed with the Tiger-Cats two weeks ago, directed five drives (22 plays) and was especially effective throwing on the run.

But Manziel’s biggest complaint was receiving a 22-yard intentional ground penalty in the second half.

“That’s the worst call of the century,” Manziel said. “My whole life I’ve been taught to throw it right at the stick that’s marking the down. … I thought I got it there, he (official) told me I was about a yard short. That’s the first time I’ve heard of that, that’s new to me.”

So too was running to the locker room at halftime and being told there still was a final play to run despite the clock having run out.

“I’m still learning some things up here,” he said. “There’s going to be some of those growing pains.”

Hamilton, which played most of its starters, had seven turnovers in the first half — two interceptions, three fumbles and two on downs.

“Obviously you can’t turn the ball over like that and ever have a chance to win a game,” Jones said. “But he (Manziel) did some good things. He’s got a good game presence about him. He knew what was going on … he wasn’t rattled, he wasn’t flustered. Obviously he scrambled around and made a couple of plays. I think he’s going to get better and better every time he plays.”

Manziel, the 2012 Heisman Trophy winner, entered the game late in the first half and played much of the third quarter. The 25-year-old was solid on his final possession, engineering a 12-play, 62-yard drive that took 7:27 off the clock but also included the intentional grounding penalty.

Manziel threw for 80 yards and ran twice for 10 yards. However, Hamilton’s biggest play was Frankie Williams‘ 73-yard punt return TD to end the third, cutting Toronto’s lead to 33-13.

Manziel, selected No. 22 overall in the first round of the 2014 NFL draft by Cleveland, appeared in 14 games for the Browns and was 2-6 in eight starts.