CLEVELAND—Johnny Manziel started on fire—he also ended well.
How did he do in between in his head-to-head battle with fellow Heisman Trophy winner Marcus Mariota.
Manziel threw a 60-yard touchdown on the second play of the game to Travis Benjamin. He then led the Browns on a 50-yard touchdown drive on the Browns second possession to give the Browns a 14-0 lead. After the first two drives, Manziel was 4-of-4 for 100 yards and a touchdown. On the Browns final possession, Manziel’s only pass was the 50-yard touchdown strike to Benjamin, but it was a big one.
“Yeah, it was a third-and-6 situation so we figured they would bring some pressure,” Manziel said. “It ended up being the case, one short there. When it just comes down to it, we just had to make a play. I think it was a great job by Travis. Not only that play but all day staying alive and making plays. He took the middle of the field, and the safety kind of bit down to stop the run and I threw it over the top. I threw it high enough so Travis could run under it. To seal the game, like that was awesome.”
Mike Pettine said the touchdown wasn’t drawn up that way.
“Certainly wasn’t the way the play was designed,” Pettine said. “I think Flip (offensive coordinator John DeFilippo) had the best line of the day on the headset after he rolled out of it, ended up throwing backwards across the field, scored the touchdown. He just says real calmly while everybody was cheering, he said ‘coaching is overrated’. They did a nice job, brought pressure. We didn’t pick it up. Johnny did a nice job getting out of it and finding Travis and making a play.”
Manziel said he knew it would be a good play when he got outside of Brian Orakpo.
“Yeah, it felt awesome,” he said. “I knew when Orakpo said, ‘Oh [shoot],’ we were going to have a good play.”
Pettine agreed that it was a great play by Manziel.
“It was a heck of a play,” Pettine said. “He felt pressure coming from his blind spot. It was vintage Manziel. We want him to play within structure and make a read, but when a play breaks down that is what he brings. The ability to escape. He did an outstanding job. I thought he had the chance to just run there. One of the signs of maturity there too was that he kept his eyes down field. He used that as an opportunity – ‘I am not just going to get ‘X’ number of yards and slide. I am going to keep my eyes down the field and make a play.’ We saw the result.”
Manziel said his first win as a starting quarterback means a lot to him.
“It’s sweet,” he said. “I’ve come a long way from that point on January 17. To be sitting here today and just having the ultimate turnaround from what it was the first two starts I had last year, personally, it feels awesome. I think I’m getting better. Still missed some things that I’m going to be hard on myself about tomorrow on film, but all around, I’m proud of the guys, proud of the effort that we had today. The defense, can’t speak enough about them and what they do.”
In between the first touchdown pass to Benjamin and the last—from the 6:26 mark of the first quarter to the 3:07 mark of the fourth quarter—Manziel was just 3-of-10 for 22 yards with two sacks. He fumbled on both sacks, but the Browns recovered both balls that hit the ground.
Manziel finished 8-of-15 for 172 yards with two touchdowns and no interceptions. His quarterback rating was 133.9 in leading the Browns to his first win as a starter in the NFL. Uncharacteristically, Manziel had just three rushes for one yard, including kneeling for the final play. Manziel’s rating at halftime was 118.0.
“From a quarterback standpoint, some inconsistency but clearly made some big plays,” Pettine said. “Disappointing thing again was the football getting away from us a couple of time. We were fortunate not to turn the ball over at all even though there were a couple times it was on the ground. We did get it back but that’s something we certainly need to address and get cleaned up.”
On the other side, Mariota finished 21-of-37 doe 257 yards with two touchdowns and a 96.3 rating. He also ran for 19 yards. However, the Browns sacked Mariota seven times and knocked him down and had 11 hits on him. Mariota also lost two fumbles. In his NFL debut last week against Tampa Bay, Mariota threw four touchdowns and had a perfect rating of 158.3.
“We understand that this is a tough league and you can get beat anytime,” Mariota said. “We understood that going in. Like I said, they did a good job of executing their game plan. I could have made a lot more accurate throws and could have been better with the football. I’ll learn that and getter better and be ready for next week.”
Pettine was asked if Manziel did enough to win the starting job when Josh McCown is cleared.
“We’ll cross that bridge when we get to it,” Pettine said. “I’m not going to speak on that one.”