On the strength of a 21-yard touchdown pass from third-string quarterback Kellen Moore to receiver Corey Fuller with a little over a minute left, the Detroit Lions beat the Cleveland Browns, 13-12, Saturday night in Ford Field.
The actual game took a back seat to the debut of Johnny Manziel. As SportsPickle joked, rarely do you ever see such a paradoxical sporting event where everything and yet nothing is simultaneously on the line:
Johnny Manziel Preseason Game 1: Nothing will ever mean more while meaning absolutely nothing.— SportsPickle (@sportspickle) August 9, 2014
Despite being one of the most anticipated rookies from the class of 2014, Manziel's introduction would have to wait a few series, as Brian Hoyer was given the start. The Lions and Browns exchanged field goals early, with Cleveland going up 6-3 on a kick from Billy Cundiff at the 11:10 mark of the second quarter.
That set the stage for the former Heisman Trophy winner. After the Browns defense forced Detroit to punt, Manziel went under center for the first time in an NFL game:
Johnny Manziel takes the field with 7:32 remaining in the 2nd quarter. Browns' 4th drive of the game.— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) August 10, 2014
His first drive as an NFL player was rather mundane, with the Browns going three-and-out:
3-and-out for Johnny Manziel on 1st drive. 3 plays from pistol formation, 1-1, 6 yds; 1 rush, 0 yds http://t.co/v2xGrB8wiv— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) August 10, 2014
Cleveland called upon Cundiff once again later in the game, with the 34-year-old splitting the uprights from 41 yards out to give the Browns a 9-6 lead in the third quarter.
On the Browns' next offensive series, Manziel turned into Johnny Football. On a couple of occasions, the play broke down—partly because of his poor awareness—forcing the rookie to create with his feet. He displayed the kind of scrambling that could make him one of the most exciting quarterbacks in the league.
CBSSports.com's Will Brinson thought one play in particular—when Manziel scrambled for a long gain and picked up a first down—summed up the entire Manziel package:
That play -- epic athleticism to make a play happen after missing two easy reads -- was Johnny Football perfected.— Will Brinson (@WillBrinson) August 10, 2014
Bleacher Report's Matt Miller couldn't help but to be enthused, but he smartly kept his emotions in check to a certain extent. Playing well against a team's second-string defense isn't the same as playing well against a first-team defense in the regular season:
BUT...can't wait to see Manziel vs. higher-tiered players on defense.— Matt Miller (@nfldraftscout) August 10, 2014
Manziel exited the game in the fourth quarter with the Browns clinging to their three-point lead. Cleveland head coach Mike Pettine said that he didn't have any major critiques for the rookie that would be unique to any other quarterback, per Fox Sports Ohio's Zac Jackson:
Pettine: Johnny handled calls, etc. well. Couple times he asked for call to be repeated but that's fairly normal. Delay not on him.— Zac Jackson (@FSOhioZJackson) August 10, 2014
Jackson had a few fans' hearts skip a beat when he tweeted out Johnny Football was getting looked at on the sideline by medical personnel. It didn't appear to be anything serious, though:
Trainer left, came back with doctor. Manziel in no obvious pain but doctor has him standing up.— Zac Jackson (@FSOhioZJackson) August 10, 2014
Jackson and Daryl Ruiter of 92.3 The Fan provide Manziel's comments after the game:
Manziel: Obviously it's not the plan for me to run that much. But the more I get comfortable, better...that will lessen.— Zac Jackson (@FSOhioZJackson) August 10, 2014
Manziel: Kyle likes getting me in looks I'm a little more familiar with, help me see the field a little better.— Zac Jackson (@FSOhioZJackson) August 10, 2014
"Everybody settled down and we were able to get into a little bit of rhythm" - Manziel on bouncing back from 3&out 1st drive— Daryl Ruiter (@RuiterWrongFAN) August 10, 2014
Pettine said after the game that the medical evaluation didn't raise any red flags, per Ruiter:
Pettine said medical report across the board checked out OK; Manziel fine despite trainer looking at him— Daryl Ruiter (@RuiterWrongFAN) August 10, 2014
ESPN's Stats and Info posted Manziel and Hoyer's stats side by side, and the results were about what you expected going into the game. The former was the better runner, while the latter was the better thrower:
Both ESPN's Chris Mortensen and Miller commented that Cleveland's wide receivers were giving their QBs little help in the passing game:
Hoyer was better than 6-of-14 passing stats, especially on 3rd drive. Two big drops. Protection was great. #Browns— Chris Mortensen (@mortreport) August 10, 2014
But sweet damn these WRs are terrible. Manziel getting no help.— Matt Miller (@nfldraftscout) August 10, 2014
The MMQB editor Peter King reported before the game that Hoyer remains the incumbent starter but that the rookie's gaining on him:
DETROIT-Manziel's NFL debut tonight. Hear he's gaining on Hoyer, but needs 2 good performances. Pettine wants to name starter pre-3d ex game— Peter King (@SI_PeterKing) August 9, 2014
That probably remains the case after the game. Pettine isn't going to make major judgments after only one preseason loss. On the subject of which QB will start the Browns' next game, he said, "that decision hasn't been made yet," per Mary Kay Cabot of The Plain Dealer:
#browns Pettine on if Manziel will start 2nd game in Washington on Monday night football: "that decision hasn't been made yet."— Mary Kay Cabot (@MaryKayCabot) August 10, 2014
Of course, Manziel wasn't the only first-round draft pick on show Saturday night, with Eric Ebron making his Lions debut.
Many have praised the tight end for his athleticism and versatility. The Detroit coaching staff isn't wasting any time figuring out different ways to use him offensively, per Sports Illustrated's Chris Burke:
Ebron lines up in the backfield on one play, then split three yards off the line. His agent's already taking notes for a 2018 franchise tag.— Chris Burke (@ChrisBurke_SI) August 9, 2014
Josh Liskiewitz of GM Jr. Scouting was also impressed with Ebron's form when used as a blocker:
Ebron has done some nice blocking today so far - locking out and keeping his legs churning.— Josh Liskiewitz (@JoshLiskiewitz) August 10, 2014
In general, Detroit was otherwise underwhelming. Matthew Stafford was removed after only one series. He attempted four passes for the entire game, with his stat line courtesy of NFL on ESPN:
Matt Stafford played just one series. He went 2/4, 18 yards. #Lions— NFL on ESPN (@ESPNNFL) August 9, 2014
Burke thinks that the Lions' performance after he departed left a lot to be desired:
The only conclusion I've made from this game so far is that if Matthew Stafford gets hurt, the Lions might have the No. 1 pick next year.— Chris Burke (@ChrisBurke_SI) August 10, 2014
Moore did look very good, going 11-of-13 for 121 yards and a touchdown. While Stafford's job isn't in doubt, Moore could be a solid plan B in the event the starter gets hurt. It will be interesting to see if he plays as well in the Lions' next encounter.
Detroit's next preseason game is on Aug. 15 against the Oakland Raiders. Fans will certainly want to see a much more spirited showing than they witnessed on Saturday.
The Browns get the Washington Redskins on the Aug. 18 edition of Monday Night Football. Perhaps Cleveland's quarterback situation will become a little more clear after the game, but more than likely, Pettine will wait for at least another week.