Manziel falls flat in debut, Browns blanked 30-0
CLEVELAND (AP) — Wearing large headphones to block out the world, Johnny Manziel walked slowly from the Browns’ locker room, pausing to sign an autograph for a young fan who painted his face for the occassion.
Manziel then stopped briefly to talk with friends waiting for him, but the Browns’ rookie quarterback was hardly in the mood to socialize.
There were no money signs being flashed, no discussion about hitting any clubs, nothing but sympathetic pats on the back.
It was time for Manziel to go home.
His debut was a disaster.
Manziel couldn’t live up to the enormous hype surrounding his first NFL start as the Cincinnati Bengals rolled to a 30-0 win Sunday over the Browns, who were eliminated from the AFC North race and will likely miss the playoffs for the 12th straight year.
Manziel didn’t provide a spark. He didn’t do much of anything.
“It was tough,” Manziel said. “I need to be better. It’s tough to come out and there and lay an egg like that and I put that on me. I’m not using the rookie excuse. It’s not me. I needed to play better.”
With the Bengals determined not to let him transform into Johnny Football and make big plays, Manziel spent the afternoon running or ducking from trouble. The 21st starting quarterback for Cleveland since 1999, Manziel looked a lot like his 20 predecessors — lost and alone.
He completed 10 of 18 passes for 80 yards, threw two interceptions and was sacked three times. He was also constantly taunted by Bengals players, who gleefully flashed Manziel’s “money-rubbing gesture” in his face every chance they got.
“I didn’t even notice it,” he claimed.
It would have been hard for him to miss Bengals linebacker Rey Maualuga, who batted down one of Manziel’s passes and nearly stuck his hands inside the quarterback’s facemask to make a point. As the week progressed, Cincinnati’s defense grew tired of all the talk about Manziel.
“We didn’t want to let him be Johnny Football versus us,” said Bengals defensive end Carlos Dunlap.
Manziel never got a chance.
The first-place Bengals (9-4-1) scored the first time they had the ball, building momentum the Browns (7-7) could never turn around.
Cleveland’s offense went three-and-out on its first three series, picking up just one first down thanks to a penalty on the Bengals defense.
And when the Browns finally got a scoring chance, Manziel squandered it by forcing a pass into the end zone that was intercepted by Bengals cornerback Adam “Pacman” Jones.
Manziel took the blame for the miscue.
“You can’t throw the second one whether you’re playing in a Pop Warner league or if you’re 6 years old playing in the driveway, you can’t throw that ball,” Manziel said. “That’s 100 percent on me.”
Browns coach Mike Pettine, who benched Brian Hoyer in favor of Manziel, didn’t mince words when assessing the 22-year-old’s performance.
“He didn’t play well — looked like a rookie, played like a rookie,” said Pettine, adding he’s committed to playing Manziel in Cleveland’s last two games. “I know a lot of it was we didn’t play well around him, but he made some obvious mistakes that typically a veteran quarterback won’t make.”
The Browns’ defense, which had played so well recently, didn’t do its part. Cincinnati took the opening kickoff and drove 81 yards for its first score, a 2-yard touchdown run by rookie Jeremy Hill, who backed up his harsh remarks about the Browns following a 24-3 loss last month.
Hill hurt the Browns for 148 yards and two touchdowns, and Rex Burkhead’s 10-yard TD run with 23 seconds left closed the scoring.
By then, thousands of Browns fans — many of them in No. 2 jerseys — who had come hoping to see Manziel work his magic and maybe provide a glimpse of a brighter future, had solemnly filed from FirstEnergy Stadium.
Same old Browns.
Manziel did his best to stay positive afterward, promising improvement.
“I’m not going to be written off forever,” he said. “It’s going to take time and reps. The best quarterbacks to ever play this game have struggled early. It’s tough for a young guy to come in and get accustomed to this league.
“What’s done is done.”
NOTES: Browns CB Joe Haden will undergo an MRI on Monday for a shoulder injury. He was hurt in the first half and did not return. ... The Browns only ran 38 offensive plays, the fewest in the league this season. ... Cleveland finished 4-4 at home. ... The loss was Cleveland’s most lopsided since a 41-9 setback to Pittsburgh in the 2010 season finale. ... Newly signed K Garrett Hartley never got on the field. He was signed Saturday when the club waived Billy Cundiff.
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