Manziel was solid, completing 19 of 32 passes for 161 yards and the one score. His receivers did nothing to help him, dropping at least four catchable passes.
For a drive — the first drive of the game — the few Cleveland Browns fans who dotted the crowd of 69,002 jammed into CenturyLink Field on Sunday got to see what Johnny Manziel could be as an NFL quarterback.
It wasn’t about flashy celebrations or ridiculous throws across his body after wild scrambles. No, it was solid decisions, crisp passes and the athleticism to keep plays alive — all resulting in a 15-play, 80-yard touchdown drive.
Manziel punctuated it with a 7-yard touchdown pass. He darted away from two pass rushers and fired a laser back across the field that only tight end Gary Barnidge could haul in.
“You can’t start out any better than seven points on the opening drive,” Manziel said. “But that was the highlight of the day for us.”
Indeed, the Browns’ offense couldn’t get out of its own way for the remainder of the game, with protection breakdowns, dropped passes and a failure to capitalize in the red zone in a 30-13 loss to the Seahawks.
“I thought Johnny did some good things, but we were just too inconsistent,” Browns coach Mike Pettine said. “I thought we hurt ourselves with some drops.”
Manziel was solid, completing 19 of 32 passes for 161 yards and the one score. His receivers — a cadre that included a former option quarterback, another generously listed at 5 feet 8 and 165 pounds and a one-time Pro Bowler relegated to bench status — dropped at least four catchable passes.
“I felt like there were a couple of balls that I know those guys can catch,” he said.
But Manziel also held himself accountable.
“There were a couple of times where I could have put the ball in better position for them,” he said. “It’s throwing and catching — it takes two of us, so I will try to put the ball in a better position next time.”
Not helping matters, starting right guard John Greco suffered a game-ending injury on the second play of the game.
“That pass rush is relentless,” Manziel said. “Everyone gets stronger as the game goes on. That’s a good defense. I think everyone in the league knows that. And we did some good things, but we didn’t do enough of them.”
Like much of his brief NFL career, the 2015 season has been an up-and-down ride both on and off the field for the Heisman Trophy winner. After being named starter Nov. 17, Manziel was demoted to third string when videos of him partying in Texas over the Browns’ bye week surfaced.
But after a season-ending injury to Josh McCown and abysmal play from Austin Davis, Manziel was named the starter two weeks ago. He’s in the process of a reputation makeover.
Though much of that includes shedding the party-boy image of Johnny Football, it’s also about elevating his play.
“He’s done a much better job of taking what is there,” Pettine said. “He got flushed a little bit more than we wanted to just because we had some pretty bad breakdowns on the offensive line. That’s the top two or three if not the best pass-rushing front four. He did a good job of getting out and not forcing the ball. He made some good plays that were just throwaways. I like how he keeps his eyes down the field when he’s getting out of the pocket.”
Manziel tried to force a pass to Travis Benjamin that was intercepted by Marcus Burley.
“I kind of had my vision clouded,” he said. “It was probably an easy check-down for 10 yards.”
Manziel earned the respect of the Seahawks’ defense.
“He’s crafty,” cornerback Richard Sherman said. “You have to give the young kid credit. He’s elusive. He was able to get out of the pocket a few times. We were able to contain him, unfortunately we gave up that one touchdown on third down, something we could have cleaned up easily.”