LANDOVER, Md. – Johnny Manziel raised his middle finger toward the Washington Redskins bench as he returned to the huddle late in the third quarter. It was one of the few times a Cleveland Browns quarterback actually found his intended target.
Manziel’s latest hand gesture was one of many lowlights for the Browns in a 24-23 Monday night loss that did little to make coach Mike Pettine’s decision any easier when it comes to selecting a Week 1 starter.
If the choice is based solely on numbers, there’s not much either Manziel or Brian Hoyer did to show he deserves the job. If it’s based on composure, the hot-shot rookie’s obscene gesture lost him some ground to the nondescript sixth-year veteran.
“It does not sit well,” Pettine said. “It’s disappointing, because what we talk about is being poised and being focused. ... That’s a big part of all football players, especially the quarterback.”
Manziel called the moment a “lapse of judgment.” Teammate Joe Haden said opposition fans and players were giving “Johnny Football” plenty of unprintable verbal grief for the second straight week. Manziel was openly mocked by Brian Orakpo when the Redskins linebacker raised both hands and performed the 2012 Heisman Trophy winner’s “money” gesture after a sack by Ryan Kerrigan in the first quarter.
“I get words exchanged throughout the entirety of the game, every game, week after week, and I should’ve been smarter,” Manziel said. “It was a ‘Monday Night Football’ game and cameras were probably solid on me, and I just need to be smarter about that. ... It’s there, and it’s present every game, and I just need to let it slide off my back and go to the next play.”
Meanwhile, Pettine needs to pick a quarterback. The performances were so unspectacular that the coach suggested he might audible from his previously stated plan of announcing his regular-season starter on Tuesday.
“All the options are still on the table,” Pettine said.
Hoyer started Monday night and completed 2 of 6 passes for 16 yards. His self-assessment: “It probably couldn’t have been any worse. It’s disappointing. It was embarrassing.”
Manziel, the No. 22 overall pick in the draft, was 7 for 16 for 65 yards and a touchdown. Of his series early in the game, he said: “I really tried to force everything and not let it fly like I should have. I need to get better at that and throw the dang ball.”
Those stats, as mediocre as they are, were padded by series against the Redskins’ backups. In the first quarter – when Washington’s starters were in the game – Manziel was 2 for 7 for 29 yards, while Hoyer was 0 for 2.
“They both missed some throws,” Pettine said.
If there’s any hint as to which way Pettine is leaning, it’s worth noting that Hoyer started for the second consecutive game and played mostly with the first-team offense, while Manziel was sent out with the backups to play in the second half. Manziel took advantage by leading a 16-play, 68-yard drive capped by an 8-yard pass to Dion Lewis for Cleveland’s first touchdown.
The sloppy game included 21 penalties and five turnovers. The Browns were particularly susceptible to the NFL’s new emphasis on hindering receivers: Cleveland’s defense was whistled five times for holding or illegal contact in the first quarter alone, including twice on one play.
The Redskins don’t have a quarterback competition, but their former Heisman winner – Robert Griffin III – also needs some work to get to regular-season form. He finished 6 for 8 for 112 yards, including an off-balance throw that was picked off by Haden.
“I just can’t throw it late,” Griffin said. “And if I do, it has to be a humdinger – and it wasn’t a humdinger. I kind of floated it out there.”
Designed QB runs are being marginalized under new Redskins coach Jay Gruden, but Griffin was nevertheless hit hard several times as he scrambled four times for 24 yards and earned a thigh bruise along the way.
“It’s nothing to worry about,” Griffin said. “I know anything that happens with me – or quarterbacks in general – guys get a little worried.”