November 28, 2014

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Browns offense finally clicks, does some good things in 33-13 win over Bears

Cleveland Browns quarterback Johnny Manziel celebrates after a 1-yard touchdown pass to tight end Jim Dray game against the Chicago Bears Thursday. (AP Photo/David Richard)

Cleveland Browns quarterback Johnny Manziel celebrates after a 1-yard touchdown pass to tight end Jim Dray game against the Chicago Bears Thursday. (AP Photo/David Richard)

CLEVELAND — Brian Hoyer and the starting offense got the touchdown drive they needed heading into the season.

Johnny Manziel was a mixed bag of magic and misses — exactly what the sparse crowd came to see.

Mike Pettine got his first win as a head coach since 2001, when he was stalking the sidelines at a high school outside of Philadelphia.

The Browns ended a frustrating and disappointing preseason with a 33-13 victory Thursday night against the Bears, who rested their starters.

The attention shifts quickly to the regular-season opener Sept. 7 at Pittsburgh, but at least the Browns finished on a positive note.

“I wouldn’t call it relief,” Hoyer said. “It’s what we expect of ourselves.”

Cleveland’s first-team offense needed the work after clunkers against Washington and St. Louis, so Pettine risked injury to try to right the ship. It worked.

With his only possession, Hoyer led a 13-play, 85-yard drive that ended with a 1-yard Ben Tate touchdown run. Hoyer was 6-for-8 for 69 yards and a 100.5 rating. He converted two third downs and a fourth down and had 17- and 21-yard completions to undrafted rookie Taylor Gabriel.

“He was sharp, made some good throws, made the right reads,” Pettine said.

“It was good to see our guys make some plays down the field.”

Manziel took over and resembled the Heisman Trophy winner he was at Texas A&M. He also looked like a rookie.

First, the good part.

He bought time in the pocket, bounced outside and connected with receiver Nate Burleson for 27 yards to set up a 1-yard touchdown throw to tight end Jim Dray in the back of the end zone on a rollout left. It was Burleson’s first catch with the Browns in his first preseason action after missing nearly three weeks with a hamstring injury.

Manziel also scrambled for 22 yards and ran the option for 14 and 11.

“I thought he did some good things and played to his strengths,” Pettine said.

Now, the rookie part.

Manziel was careless with the ball and fumbled on a sack, but the Browns recovered. He threw a terrible wobbler on a deep out for Travis Benjamin, but was bailed out by a defensive penalty. He skipped a couple of throws and was high and wide with others.

He went 6-for-17 for 83 yards, a touchdown and a 71.4 rating. He rushed four times for 55 yards.

“Falls into the category of Johnny being Johnny,” Pettine said. “A couple of those plays were no, no, no, yes — but that’s what he does. That, to me, is what he brings to the table.

“He just needs to get more comfortable in his reads, take the easy throws that are there. He’s certainly shown why he has the reputation that he does.”

Manziel said he knew his completion percentage was poor before seeing the stat sheet.

“I don’t think I threw the ball particularly well today,” he said. “You have days like that, the ball feels a little different in your hand.”

Hoyer finished the preseason 24-for-44 for 261 yards, a touchdown, an interception and a 70.4 rating. In his 15 possessions, the Browns scored two touchdowns and three field goals and totaled 356 yards.

Hoyer insisted Tuesday he wasn’t concerned about the offense because it had been hurt by correctable mistakes. It still felt good to finally have success, especially a day after receiver Josh Gordon’s season-long suspension was upheld.

“It was great to get out there and just move right down the field,” Hoyer said. “We said tonight wasn’t about them. It was about us.

“Regardless of who’s playing for them — they were nameless and faceless opponents — we just wanted to go out and make everything about us.”

Pettine and Hoyer expressed their support for Gordon, but had already shifted the focus to winning without him.

“Guys are going to have to step up,” Hoyer said. “There are guys here that I’m confident are capable of doing that.”

“Tough to see,” center Alex Mack said. “You want your players on the field.

“The thing is missed opportunities for him and for us.”

Manziel will begin the regular season on the bench, but he might see the field as part of a special package of plays. He showed Thursday night how dangerous he is out of the pocket, and if he can improve his accuracy he could be a true dual threat immediately.

He went 30-for-59 in four preseason games for 296 yards, two touchdowns, no interceptions and a 76.7 rating. He added 12 rushes for 88 yards and led three touchdown drives.

“Whether it’s a package, whether it’s coming in and playing, whatever it is that I’m asked to do, I need to be ready to step in and execute that without hesitation,” Manziel said. “That’s my job.”

The starting defense played two series and allowed a field goal. That could be pinned on cornerback Leon McFadden’s 37-yard pass interference penalty.

McFadden played a ton in the preseason because of injuries to Joe Haden and Buster Skrine. They’re expected back for the Steelers game, and McFadden will likely be cut Saturday. As a third-round pick last year, he was given multiple chances to earn a job, but he piled up the penalties and gave up several long completions.

Otherwise, the first-team defense was fine, including a 13-yard sack from linebacker Barkevious Mingo. Rookie quarterback David Fales, a sixth-round pick out of San Jose State, played the whole game for Chicago.

Browns rookie cornerback Justin Gilbert, the No. 8 pick, played longer than the other starters and missed a tackle on a 32-yard catch-and-run for a touchdown by receiver Santonio Holmes. But Pettine thought Gilbert improved after a tough night against the Rams, when he missed a tackle on a 75-yard score and allowed several completions.

The rest of the game belonged to the backups and Billy Cundiff, who kicked four field goals. Undrafted rookie Isaiah Crowell rushed 13 times for 102 yards, including a 48-yard touchdown in his first extensive action. He went for an X-ray on his left hand after the game.

Pettine didn’t get a Gatorade shower for his first NFL win, but he did appreciate it.

“I’m thrilled because the checklist we had going into tonight, we accomplished,” he said. “Momentum is important, and I think our guys will head into next week with a very different mindset. Just looking back, if it hadn’t gone our way tonight I think it would have been a bit of a shadow cast over us.”

Contact Scott Petrak at 329-7253 or spetrak@chroniclet.com. Like him on Facebook and follow him on Twitter @scottpetrak.

NEXT UP

WHO: Cleveland vs. Pittsburgh
WHAT: Season opener
WHEN: Sept. 7, 1 p.m.
WHERE: Heinz Field, Pittsburgh
TV/RADIO: Channel 19; WKNR 850-AM, WKRK 92.3-FM, WNCX 98.5-FM

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