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Browns-Panthers Preview
National Football League

Browns-Panthers Preview

Published Dec. 17, 2014 2:41 p.m. ET

Johnny Manziel's first career start couldn't have gone much worse, but the slumping Cleveland Browns are sticking with him.

The Carolina Panthers are expecting to start fellow Heisman Trophy winner Cam Newton.

Manziel looks to come out with a much better performance Sunday when Cleveland visits the Panthers, who try to keep pace in the race for the NFC South crown.

The Browns (7-7) were all but mathematically eliminated from the playoff hunt last Sunday against Cincinnati as Manziel failed to provide a spark in his first game replacing the struggling Brian Hoyer. The former Texas A&M star completed 10 of 18 passes for 80 yards with two interceptions and was limited to 13 rushing yards on five attempts in a 30-0 defeat, Cleveland's third in a row.


Manziel said the loss was "very humbling," but that he isn't concerned with what his critics are saying.

"I'm not really listening to any outside noise or what anybody else has to say," Manziel said. "I know that I need to play better and if I don't, people are going to continue to say things like that."

The Browns ran 38 offensive plays - the fewest by any team in a game this season - and were outgained 347-107 from scrimmage. They managed to cross the 50-yard line once and picked up just five first downs, two of which came via defensive penalties.

Manziel was sacked three times and regularly taunted by the Bengals defensive players, though there hasn't been much coming from the Panthers this week in terms of wanting to show up the flamboyant rookie.

While his starting debut didn't offer much encouragement, Manziel will get a chance to prove himself over the final two games.

"I think it's too small a sample size," coach Mike Pettine said. "When you look at how we played around him, I think it's very unfair to judge what somebody's career is going to be like off of their first start. ... That type of game humbles all of us."

Panthers coach Ron Rivera said he's awaiting final clearance from team physicians before officially naming Newton the starter. That clearance is expected to come Saturday.

''Right now, everything is pointing in the right direction,'' Rivera said Friday. ''The reason I haven't said anything (definitive) is because of that one big thing - waiting for doctors to tell me they feel good about it.''

Newton practiced Friday for the third straight day and Rivera said he feels ''very confident and comfortable'' that the fourth-year quarterback will start Sunday, 12 days after a two-vehicle wreck left him with two lower back fractures.

Derek Anderson started last Sunday's 19-17 victory over Tampa Bay, going 25 of 40 for 277 yards with a touchdown.

Carolina (5-8-1) remained one-half game behind New Orleans for the division lead, winning a second consecutive game after dropping six straight.

"It's a race, but we play Cleveland next. That will be the focus," Rivera told the team's official website. "We've got to get things going in the right direction."

Greg Olsen racked up 110 yards after hauling in a career-best 10 catches for the second consecutive game. He's tied for the NFL lead among tight ends with 81 receptions and ranks second with 960 yards, both of which are team bests.

The Panthers may have to face Pro Bowl cornerback Joe Haden, who is listed as questionable to play. Haden injured his right shoulder last week when he fell hard while trying to make an interception. He didn't practice two days this week and was limited Friday.

Fellow defensive back Justin Gilbert also could be out due to a concussion suffered against the Bengals.

Carolina's Jonathan Stewart has rushed for 228 yards over the last two weeks with DeAngelo Williams out due to a broken hand. He now faces a Cleveland defense which was gashed for 244 rushing yards last week, its most allowed in three seasons.

The Panthers took the first three meetings in the series before losing the last one, 24-23 at Cleveland in 2010.

The Browns are 3-3 on the road after going 3-21 over the previous three seasons. They haven't posted four road victories since going 6-2 in 2002.


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