All eyes on Johnny
DETROIT – It wasn’t a normal feel for a first preseason game as the Cleveland Browns and the Detroit Lions went at it Saturday night at Ford Field.
By the time the fans walked out of the beautiful evening and settled in for some action, most of the seats were filled, which is unique for most exhibition games. Most weren’t here to see how the special teams performed.
This was Johnny Manziel’s NFL debut, and Ford Field was the place to be seen. Manziel entered play for the first time early in the second quarter in place of Brian Hoyer and was promptly greeted by a round of boos by fans partial to the Lions.
While nothing was decided in the quarterback competition that has captured the attention of media across the nation, it was a decent coming-out party for Manziel in the Lions’ 13-12 win. He’ll get a better chance to prove he should start the season opener when, as expected, he starts against the Washington Redskins a week from Monday.
Manziel, as he did in the intrasquad scrimmage eight days ago, flashed quick feet in showing off his ability to escape trouble. He finished with 27 rushing yards on six carries.
Browns coach Mike Pettine had to be anxious to see how Manziel would operate throwing the ball – both in and out of the pocket. He stood in the pocket and delivered a 6-yard pass to Anthony Armstrong on his first play from scrimmage. Early in the third quarter he stood in the pocket and zipped a perfect throw to Taylor Gabriel for a gain of 14 yards.
The Browns took a 9-6 lead on a 41-yard field goal by Billy Cundiff with Manziel at quarterback in the third quarter. They drove deep into Lions’ territory on their next possession – keyed by a 16-yard Manziel scramble for a first down before the drive ended when Dion Lewis fumbled.
Manziel finished 7-of-11 for 63 yards.
The offense scored six points on two Billy Cundiff field goals during Hoyer’s time on the field. He was 6-of-14 for 92 yards. Hoyer’s best throw was in the back of the end zone to Josh Gordon, who should have pulled down a pass that had to be thrown high to go over defenders.
“We kind of hurt ourselves,” Hoyer said. “For me, I had a bad read on one third down. We just have to continue to improve when the live bullets are flying. We can’t settle for three; we’ve got to score touchdowns.”
Hoyer didn’t lose his status as the likely opening-day starter, but he certainly didn’t pull away. Backups often look better in preseason games, but it would be hard to give this round to Hoyer.
“It’s a typical first preseason game,” Pettine said. “We did some good things. There are some things that we have got to get cleaned up. I liked how we got in and out of the huddle on offense, played with some good tempo and moved the ball. We’ve got to finish at the end instead of kicking field goals.”
Manziel looked poised considering the spotlight that was on his every move. He appeared relaxed and exhibited positive body language but admits he has plenty of work ahead.
“There’s a lot. That list could go on for days,” Manziel said. “For me it was a good start. You have to set a foundation. Got my feet wet; got my first preseason game under my belt.”
Manziel put himself on a pace to have had about 15 carries in a full game. That might be a bit more than Pettine would like to see, but it’s what makes Johnny . Johnny.
“I want to move the ball down the field,” Manziel said. “I did as good a job as I could getting down. If there’s a fourth down and you have to get the first down, you have to move the chains. That’s what it’s all about.”
There were some positive signs from the ground game, but there’s room for improvement. Ben Tate rushed for 25 yards on six carries and appears ready to start the opener. Rookie Terrance West suffered from poor blocking, but he put a big-time move on a defender for a 10-yard gain in the third quarter.
“It felt good,” Tate said. “I felt a little rusty out there. I was happy with how we moved the ball; we scored some points. Other than that, I think it was a good start, especially running the ball.”
Not allowing a touchdown was a good sign for the defense, but Pettine saw problems that need improved.
“I’m not real pleased with the tackling,” Pettine said. “I would say that’s our biggest issue so far. Our guys are flying around, but that’s something that we’ve got to get cleaned up.”
It was the first chance to show their skills for linebacker Karlos Dansby and safety Donte Whitner, key members of the free-agent class.
“It felt good,” Dansby said. “We held them (the first team) to three points. We did what we had to do to get off the field. We executed and trusted one another. Everybody was on the same page.”
The Lions took advantage of a 49-yard kick return by Jeremy Ross to open the game to score on a 37-yard field goal by Nick Freese. The Browns tied the score later in the first quarter on a 43-yard field goal by Cundiff.
Cundiff gave the Browns a 6-3 lead with a 26-yard field goal early in the second period. Freese tied the score late in the second quarter with a 32-yard field goal.
The lone touchdown came on a 21-yard pass from Kellen Moore to Corey Fuller late in the fourth quarter. The point-after kick gave the Lions a 13-12 lead.