June 28, 2016

Mostly cloudy

Preseason ends on successful note


Scott Petrak

The Gazette

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

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

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 and got rookie coach Mike Pettine a win after three losses. Cleveland’s starters 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 from there 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, ran the option for 14 and ran a keeper for 11.

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 at halftime. “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.”

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

Hoyer and the first-team offense didn’t crack the goal line until the end of the first half Saturday. Neither touchdown came against a No. 1 defense.

Hoyer insisted Tuesday he wasn’t concerned about the offense because it had been shooting itself in foot. 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. It’s good to go down and have an 85-yard drive and just execute and get in the end zone.”

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.

The Browns’ 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 JoseState, played the whole game for Chicago.

“I think we came out and did everything we set out to do coming into this game,” Mingo said. “We minimized mistakes. Everybody was keyed in on their assignment and they executed. We’ve just got to clean up a little bit more mistakes. We’ll be ready to play come next week.”

The rest of the game belonged to the backups and kicker 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. Cornerback Robert Nelson, deep down the depth chart, had an interception.

Contact Scott Petrak at (440) 329-7253 or spetrak@chroniclet.com. Like him on Facebook and follow him @scottpetrak on Twitter.