DETROIT — Johnny Manziel provided only tiny glimpses of electrifying play and produced nothing memorably great in his NFL preseason debut here Saturday night. But the rookie quarterback’s unveiling for the Cleveland Browns nevertheless had promise to it, as he ran the ball effectively and threw it relatively efficiently against the Detroit Lions.
Manziel took over midway through the second quarter, after Brian Hoyer started the game for the Browns, and played with and against backups through the end of the third quarter before giving way to Tyler Thigpen, in a 13-12 Detroit victory.
The offense the Browns and their first-year offensive coordinator, Kyle Shanahan, used for Manziel at times closely resembled the offense that Shanahan and the Washington Redskins used for then-rookie quarterback Robert Griffin with the Washington Redskins in 2012. There were some option-style plays for Manziel, who ran for 27 yards on six carries. His longest run was for 16 yards.
He looked mostly comfortable and confident when operating from the pocket, and connected on 7 of 11 passes for 63 yards. He didn’t have a touchdown pass or throw an interception. The Cleveland offense had five possessions with Manziel at quarterback, although one of them was a single-play kneel-down at the end of the first half. The other four Manziel-led drives produced a field goal, two punts and a turnover on a fumble lost by running back Dion Lewis. Manziel exited the game with the Browns leading, 9-6.
“For me, it was a good start,” Manziel said. “You have to start somewhere and you have to set a foundation. I got my feet wet. I got my first preseason game under my belt.”
Manziel quickly has become one of the league’s most intensely scrutinized players, and his debut promised to make this an unusually captivating NFL preseason game. There also was the added curiosity of getting the first glimpse at how Manziel’s skills would be put to use by Shanahan.
Manziel, taken 22nd by the Browns in the NFL draft, is vying for Cleveland’s starting job with Hoyer, a sixth-year pro who has been with four teams. Manziel could make his first preseason start when the Browns next play the Redskins at FedEx Field.
Hoyer went first Saturday and had a mixed bag of a performance, connecting on 6 of 14 passes for 92 yards. He led the Browns on three offensive series, resulting in one punt and a pair of field goals by place kicker Billy Cundiff.
Hoyer’s biggest play came on the Browns’ second offensive play of the night, when the Detroit defense left Cleveland fullback MarQueis Gray completely uncovered and he turned a short pass into a 28-yard gain. Hoyer overthrew some receivers early on. But he delivered an on-target pass to wide receiver Josh Gordon for a 22-yard completion to open the second quarter. His receivers had a few dropped passes.
“I’m not concerned about that right now,” Hoyer said of the quarterback competition. “I’m concerned about being the best quarterback I can when I play.”
Manziel took the field with 7 minutes 32 seconds remaining in the second quarter and was greeted by some boos from the Ford Field crowd. The boos were louder moments later when it was officially announced that Manziel had taken over at quarterback. His first pass was a six-yard completion to wide receiver Anthony Armstrong. But the Browns went three plays and out on Manziel’s first drive, punting after Manziel was stopped for no gain on a third-and-one run when he kept the ball on an option play. His second drive consisted of just the kneel-down. He had an eight-yard run during the Browns’ opening possession of the third quarter, leading to a 41-yard field goal by Cundiff.
It appeared that members of the Browns’ medical staff checked on Manziel on the sideline after that drive. But he remained in the game and promptly zipped a pass to rookie wideout Taylor Gabriel for a 14-yard completion. A 16-yard dash on a scramble followed soon thereafter. Manziel used a burst of speed to elude a couple Lions defenders when his pass protection broke down, and utilized a slide to avoid being hit at the end of the run. He ran for a yard and a first down on a fourth-and-one gamble later on that drive, but Lewis’s fumble came on the next play.
Manziel remained in the game for one more drive. On his final pass of the night, the ball went through the hands of rookie wideout Willie Snead for a third-down incompletion leading to a punt. Thigpen took over as Cleveland’s quarterback in the fourth quarter.