Can Cleveland Browns head coach Mike Pettine have a do-over? The same week he named Brian Hoyer the team's starting quarterback, the Browns labored to a 33-14 defeat at home Saturday night at the hands of the St. Louis Rams.
Hoyer had both good and bad moments, finishing the game 10-of-16 for 84 yards with one touchdown and one interception. The fans inside FirstEnergy Stadium weren't too pleased with what they saw from the Cleveland offense and let the Browns players know, per ESPN's Josina Anderson:
Crowd booing Hoyer and the Browns offense...— Josina Anderson (@JosinaAnderson) August 24, 2014
"I don't want to make a permanent commitment to any starter," Pettine said before the game, per Mary Kay Cabot of The Plain Dealer. "I just don't think you can do that. I think you make more of a commitment to your quarterback because of the unique circumstances that surround that position."
Pettine won't be backtracking already, but Saturday night might have given him pause about sticking with Hoyer should things start to turn bad early during the regular season.
It didn't help matters that the Rams jumped out to a 20-0 lead into the second quarter after two field goals from Greg Zuerlein and two touchdown passes from Austin Davis.
St. Louis fans likely would've been very happy with that quick start had Sam Bradford not left on the team's first drive of the game after injuring his knee. According to ESPNCleveland.com's Tony Grossi, Bradford's knee was twisted as he attempted to remain upright despite coming under heavy fire:
Replays of Sam Bradford injury show Armonty Bryant letting up and Bradford left knee apparently twisting as he tries to stay up.— Tony Grossi (@TonyGrossi) August 24, 2014
ESPN's Chris Mortensen reported that the results of an initial examination on the knee were inconclusive and that Bradford will have an MRI:
Rams' Sam Bradford will undergo MRI after initial exam is inconclusive on same left knee that underwent ACL surgery last season, per source— Chris Mortensen (@mortreport) August 24, 2014
Davis did well after replacing Bradford's backup, Shaun Hill. Rams head coach Jeff Fisher wasted little time bringing on the second- and third-stringers. Few players utilized the opportunity more than the 25-year-old QB.
He completed 14 of 22 passes for 198 yards, two touchdowns and an interception.
As good as Davis played, both ESPN's Jim Trotter and NFL.com's Aditi Kinkhabwala felt the success of the Rams backups served as an indictment of the Browns defense:
Pettine wanted his starting defense to excite the Dawg Pound in the exhibition home opener, but the unit can't stop No. 3 QB Austin Davis.— Jim Trotter (@JimTrotter_NFL) August 24, 2014
So much for the Browns having a great defense. Chris Givens torches them on a short pass-turned-75-yard-touchdown. From Austin Davis.— Aditi Kinkhabwala (@AKinkhabwala) August 24, 2014
Hoyer did end the first half on a good note for the Browns, connecting with Andrew Hawkins for a five-yard touchdown. It was the first TD scored by Cleveland's first-string offense this preseason, per Tom Reed of The Plain Dealer:
Hoyer throws 5-yard TD to Andrew Hawkins. It was against second-team #Rams D. It's first TD by first-string O in preseason— Tom Reed (@treed1919) August 24, 2014
On their first drive of the third quarter, the Rams added another Zuerlein field goal to increase their lead to 16 points, 23-7.
Then it was Johnny Manziel's chance to lead the Browns offense. After a three-and-out on his first drive under center, Manziel led Cleveland to its second touchdown of the game, running it in from seven yards out.
That was Johnny Football's last real highlight of the game. He finished 10-of-15 passing for 85 yards.
The most buzzworthy moment of the game came with a little over 11 minutes left in the fourth quarter. As Manziel dropped back in the pocket he was sacked by rookie defensive end Michael Sam. It was as if the social media gods had smiled down upon Cleveland for those 10 seconds.
Sam even mocked the "Manziel money" celebration just to bring everything full circle, per Tom Withers of The Associated Press:
Zuerlein boosted St. Louis' lead to 26-14 in the fourth with a 26-yard field goal, and Trey Watts followed with an impressive 12-yard touchdown run to put the cherry on top of a 33-14 Rams win.
St. Louis is no stranger to unearthing undervalued running backs in the draft, and ESPN.com's Nick Wagoner wondered if the undrafted free agent might be the next in line:
Nice TD run by RB Trey Watts. Rams seem to have a knack for finding late/undrafted gems at RB. We'll see if he can do enough to win a spot.— Nick Wagoner (@nwagoner) August 24, 2014
Watts finished with 36 yards and a touchdown on nine carries.
The teams don't have much time between now and their final game of the preseason with all teams wrapping up on Thursday, Aug. 28. The Rams travel to Miami to take on the Dolphins.
Cleveland stays at home in Week 4, welcoming the Chicago Bears. After what was their worst loss so far of the preseason, the Browns need to show something else in order to build any sort of positive momentum ahead of the regular season.