Reality stings for Manziel, Browns

BY foxsports • December 14, 2014

CLEVELAND -- Needing a spark for an offense that had slid from stagnant to downright awful in recent weeks, the Cleveland Browns were forced to turn to rookie quarterback Johnny Manziel for Sunday's survival game vs. the Cincinnati Bengals.

Manziel showed up less than ready to excel. 

Same for his offensive line, coaches and the Browns run defense. With flickering playoff hopes on the line and an expected energy boost from Manziel, the Browns got totally outclassed, bullied out of their own stadium from the very first drive.

It was 30-0 and could have been worse. The Browns were shut out for the first time since 2009.  

Even by Browns standards this was bad; it was up there (or down there) with the worst of a decade and a half of mostly bad football. Manziel spent most of the day on the ground, and when he was upright he danced much more than he ran, never seemed sure of anything and sprayed passes high to his targets and accurately to Bengals defenders. 

"Looked like a rookie, played like a rookie," Browns coach Mike Pettine said of his quarterback.

It was so bad that Pettine had to say after the game that the team will stick with Manziel as its starter next week.

As the Browns world turns, though, this was not all on the quarterback. Not even close. Manziel was just the deer who didn't have time to see the headlights. 

The Browns were soundly beaten at the line of scrimmage on both sides, managed one first down in the first 25 minutes (and that was by penalty) and got gashed by Bengals running back Jeremy Hill starting with his first few touches. Hill carried 25 times for 148 yards and two touchdowns, and by the fourth quarter Bengals running backs were falling down to chew clock rather than chew up available yards.

The moment the game ended almost the entire Bengals defensive line ran to hug Manziel near midfield. It felt like they were saying, "Sorry for taking your lunch money, but you didn't exactly lock the safe."

In the Bengals locker room after the game, Bengals cornerback Dre Kirkpatrick -- he had the first of Manziel's two interceptions; another was negated by a flag -- yelled to no one in particular, "We got some money from Manziel, baby. I told ya'll we were gonna get rich today."

That's, um, rich. 

The Browns only ran 38 plays. Their first four possessions netted 17 yards, which is 26 more yards than they amassed in the third quarter. Really. 

They crossed the 50-yard line once. 


No huddle, no hope. Seventeen run plays totaled 53 yards, and that includes Manziel totaling 13 while mostly running for cover. He finished 10-of-18 passing for 80 yards, was sacked three times and compliled a 27.3 quarterback rating, which makes Brian Hoyer's 31.7 from the previous game seem Tom Brady-ian. 

"I never felt overwhelmed or that it was too much for me," Manziel said. 

He apparently didn't need that lunch money. 

The Browns hit their ceiling more than a month ago -- when they dominated this same Bengals team on the road and on national TV, to be exact --and no quarterback change, offensive structure change or sudden jolt provided by the new guy leading the huddle or the muddled AFC playoff picture leaving the door open could change that. Sunday brought the Bengals and a big stage and a chance for a big step, and they instead got stepped on. 

The Browns aren't a playoff team. They haven't even resembled one for a month now and won't be one until they can stop the run, among other things. So much was said in the buildup to the game about the excitement Manziel would bring and how his mobility and presence could provide different dimensions, and then Sunday came and not only were the Browns down 7-0 by the time Manziel touched the ball but he never had the chance to feel comfortable, much less confident. 

The Browns came out of the two-minute warning in the first half and either didn't have enough guys in the huddle or didn't have the right play call --maybe both -- and used a timeout. Off of a free timeout. 

It was 20-0 then. 

Getting out of fourth place in the rugged AFC North Division would have been a big step this season. Getting a read on Manziel and feeling confident he'll be ready for next year would be a hugely important step, and he still figures to get two more chances. 

The good news is he has nowhere to go but up. 

The flip side is the Browns are very much limping to the finish. 

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