Landover, Md. — Johnny Manziel and Brian Hoyer didn’t make Mike Pettine’s decision any easier. Good luck picking a starting quarterback after this mess, Coach.
Manziel struggled to hit open receivers and added another gesture to his repertoire — a middle finger apparently aimed at the Washington bench — while Hoyer completed only two passes in five series. Neither the hot-shot rookie nor the nondescript sixth-year veteran looked ready to claim a No. 1 NFL gig, failing to live up to the big-time setting of a final audition in the Cleveland Browns’ 24-23 Monday night loss to Washington.
Pettine has said he plans to announce his regular season starter Tuesday. His choices are Manziel, the No. 22 overall pick in the draft who completed 7 of 16 passes for 65 yards and an touchdown, and Hoyer, who was 2 for 6 for 16 yards.
And those stats were padded by series against the Washington backups. In the first quarter — when Washington’s starters were in the game — Manziel was 2 for 7 for 29 yards, while Hoyer was 0 for 2. Manziel was even mocked by Washington linebacker Brian Orakpo, who raised both hands and performed the 2012 Heisman Trophy winner’s “money” gesture after a sack by teammate Ryan Kerrigan.
Manziel appeared to have a message of his own for Washington. He raised the middle finger of his right hand as he jogged away from the Washington sideline after a play late in the third quarter.
To be fair, the first two passes by Hoyer could be classified as drops by his receivers, but he also failed to move the team when an interception gave the Browns the ball at Washington’s 15 in the second quarter. After a running play and two incompletions, including a pass high and through the hands of Andrew Hawkins in the end zone, Cleveland had to settle for a field goal.
Looking for a hint as to which way Pettine is leaning? It’s worth noting that Hoyer started for the second consecutive game and played mostly with the first-team offense, while Manziel was sent out with the backups to play in the second half. Manziel took advantage by leading a 16-play, 68-yard drive capped by an 8-yard pass to Dion Lewis for Cleveland’s first touchdown.
In a sloppy game that included 21 penalties and five turnovers, anyone using a nickname like “Johnny Football” at times seemed like an insult to the sport. The Browns were particularly susceptible to the NFL’s new emphasis on hindering receivers: Cleveland’s defense was whistled five times for holding or illegal contact in the first quarter alone, including twice on one play.
Washington doesn’t have a quarterback competition, but its former Heisman winner — Robert Griffin III — also needs some work to get to regular season form. He finished 6 for 8 for 112 yards, including an unwise off-balance throw that was picked off by Joe Haden. RG3’s three drives ended with a fumbled pitch by Alfred Morris, the interception, and a goal-line stuff by the Browns defense when Morris was unable to punch it on four runs from first-and-goal from the 3.
The designed runs are being marginalized under new Washington coach Jay Gruden, but Griffin was nevertheless hit hard several times as he scrambled four times for 24 yards.
At least the game had an exciting ending. Connor Shaw hit Emmanuel Ogbuehi on a 45-yard Hail Mary at time expired. The Browns’ 2-point conversion attempt failed.