What was more obscene Monday night at FedEx Field — Johnny Manziel’s gesture toward the Washington Redskins’ sideline or his play in the Cleveland Browns’ second preseason game?
The Browns’ starting-quarterback competition between Manziel and Brian Hoyer was thrown into disarray Monday. The play of Hoyer and Manziel was so pitiable that Coach Mike Pettine left open the possibility of postponing his choice of a starter for the regular season, which had been planned for Tuesday or, at the latest, Wednesday.
“It’s possible,” Pettine said late Monday night on the prospects of delaying the decision. “I think all the options are on the table.”
If Hoyer does “win” the job this week, it will be based on a performance Monday that consisted of two completions, a four-yard field goal drive and not making an obscene gesture toward the Redskins’ bench.
“It probably couldn’t have been any worse,” Hoyer said. “It’s disappointing. It’s embarrassing.”
For the Browns, perhaps the most alarming thing was that Manziel, their would-be franchise quarterback of the future and a player so accustomed to being in the spotlight, did not rise to the occasion when given his chance to split snaps with the first-team offense and make his case for the starting job.
“I didn’t think I did a good job today,” Manziel said. “I think there’s a lot of room for me to improve.”
Manziel’s eventful night included Redskins linebacker Brian Orakpo celebrating a sack by teammate Ryan Kerrigan of Manziel by doing the former Heisman Trophy winner’s trademark finger-rubbing money sign.
“I didn’t even notice it,” Manziel said.
But the “Monday Night Football” cameras certainly noticed Manziel gesturing with a raised middle finger toward the Redskins’ sideline as he walked away from it, heading back toward the field, following a third-quarter play.
“I get words exchanged with me throughout the entirety of the game every game, week after week,” Manziel said. “I should have been smarter. It was a Monday Night Football game. The cameras were probably solidly on me. So I just need to be smarter about that…. There’s always words exchanged on the football field.”
Manziel called it a “lapse in judgment.” Pettine clearly was not pleased.
“It does not sit well,” the first-year coach of the Browns said. “I was informed of it after the game. It’s disappointing. What we talked about is being poised and being focused. You have to be able to maintain your poise…. It’s something that we’ll obviously address with him.”
When Pettine was asked if Manziel’s on-field behavior factors into the team’s quarterback decision, he said: “It’s whoever gives us the best chance to win the opener will be the starter.”
Perhaps there were mitigating factors. Browns cornerback Joe Haden said Manziel was a target of verbal abuse throughout the game from Redskins players and fans alike.
“Everybody was talking just the worst things you’d ever imagine to Johnny…. He gets a lot of grief,” Haden said.
What Manziel failed to do was let his play do his responding for him. He completed two of seven passes for 29 yards in the first half, when he and Hoyer rotated and worked with Cleveland’s starters. Manziel remained in the game for the entire third quarter and into the early moments of the fourth quarter. He managed to throw a touchdown pass, capping the first touchdown drive orchestrated by either him or Hoyer this preseason. But does a fourth-quarter touchdown against backups count for much in a starting competition? Does it count for anything at all?
“I wanted to be better,” said Manziel, who finished with seven completions in 16 passing attempts for 65 yards, while Hoyer didn’t play after halftime and went two for six for 16 yards. “I wanted to complete more passes than I did tonight…. I’m hard on myself and I think I need to get a lot better.”
The Browns just signed veteran Rex Grossman. One could joke that he should have clinched the starting job Monday by not playing.
But it is no joking matter to Pettine. When he was asked Monday if there’s any chance his opening-day starter could be someone other than Manziel or Hoyer, Pettine said: “That’s not a choice. Somebody has to be ready for the opener.”