Detroit — The Lions won their exhibition opener against Johnny Manziel and the Cleveland Browns, 13-12, on Saturday night at Ford Field, but displayed little of the new system being implemented this season.
A 21-yard touchdown pass from third-string quarterback Kellen Moore to Corey Fuller with 65 seconds left in the fourth quarter gave the Lions a victory in what was an otherwise sloppy performance by the offense.
Quarterback Matthew Stafford, running backs Reggie Bush and Joique Bell, wide receiver Golden Tate, and offensive linemen Dominic Raiola and Rob Sims all played just one series.
On defense, tackle Ndamukong Suh, safeties Glover Quin and James Ihedigbo, and linebackers DeAndre Levy and Stephen Tulloch played the first two series as the Lions tried to give the reserves on the roster a chance to compete for jobs.
Even though it was an exhibition, the Lions had an announced sellout with a crowd of 51,384 that was especially loud when the defense took the field.
Before the late touchdown, the Lions' best highlight of the night might have been Jeremy Ross' 49-yard return on the opening kickoff.
Stafford went 2-for-4 for 18 yards, including a 14-yard completion to Tate, and used the great field position to set up a 37-yard field goal by Nate Freese.
The Lions' offense showed some of the various alignments they will deploy this season, including the increased use of a fullback and the regular use of two tight ends. First-round pick Eric Ebron had one 2-yard catch on four targets, and he lined up out wide, in-line and in the backfield.
On defense, the Lions started their substitutions on the defensive line early and had some plays with four linemen and four linebackers with second-round linebacker Kyle Van Noy as the fourth linebacker. Van Noy missed a sack on Manziel and nearly forced a fumble on a pass that was ruled incomplete.
Nate Freese, this year's seventh-round pick, made both of his field-goal attempts, including a 32-yarder near the end of the first half that made it a 6-6 game at the break. Fellow kicker Giorgio Tavecchio didn't have a field-goal try, but he made the 33-yard extra point after the touchdown.
The Lions had three penalties for 17 yards in the first quarter, but had just two more the rest of the game.
"Well, it’s not as clean as we’d like — maybe a penalty too many," coach Jim Caldwell told WXYZ-TV at halftime. "But overall I thought the defense hung in there and played well. Kicked field goals, and we’re hoping to get that thing going offensively.”
Although the Lions cut out the penalties, there were some other ugly plays. Running back George Winn, who ran well with six carries for 39 yards, lost a fumble early in the fourth quarter, and Moore lost a fumble on a low shotgun snap from rookie center Travis Swanson.
Detroit's defense played well most of the night, holding the Browns to just 282 total yards. The Lions also contained Cleveland's dual-threat rookie Manziel -- the second-stringer behind Michigan State’s Brian Hoyer in the game -- to just 27 yards on six rushes with a long of 16 yards.
Lions backup quarterback Dan Orlovsky played from the second series until the end of the third quarter, but struggled with his accuracy and didn't make any plays down the field, finishing 12 of 23 for 89 yards.
Mikel Leshoure ran well with eight carries for 31 yards, but Winn was the Lions' most impressive back of the night.
Rookie defensive tackle Caraun Reid played well in the second half with two tackles for loss. Defensive tackle Jimmy Saddler-McQueen also forced a fumble by Browns running back Dion Lewis that was recovered by rookie defensive end Kris Redding.
Lions safety Isa Abdul-Quddus intercepted Tyler Thigpen with 29 seconds left to secure the victory.
Running back Theo Riddick suffered an injury in the first half and did not return. Linebacker Tahir Whitehead suffered an injury and appeared to be tested for a concussion in the third quarter.
… Wide receiver Calvin Johnson, defensive end Ezekiel Ansah, wide receiver TJ Jones and cornerback Drayton Florence were not active.