Browns vs. Chiefs: Cleveland Grades, Notes and Quotes
Kansas City held off the Cleveland Browns' second-half surge, winning 17-13 after being shut out in the second half.
The Browns deferred possession after winning the coin toss, and then the Chiefs marched down the field and took an early seven-point lead. Jeremy Maclin caught his seventh touchdown of the season and surpassed 1,000 yards on a 11-yard reception from Alex Smith.
Chiefs kicker Cairo Santos connected on a 40-yard field goal on their next possession to give the Chiefs a 10-0 advantage.
Cleveland got its offense moving on its second drive, but that stalled after Johnny Manziel’s toss to running back Duke Johnson was reviewed and reversed due to being past the line of scrimmage and moving forward. The subsequent five-yard penalty and loss of down set up Travis Coons’ 45-yard field goal with 8:58 left to play in the first half.
Craig Robertson batted a Smith pass on Kansas City’s next series, and then it was picked off by rookie Nate Orchard and returned 46 yards to the Chiefs' 41-yard line. Manziel’s first pass of the series two plays later was picked off by rookie Marcus Peters, his eighth interception of the season.
Both teams traded punts before the Chiefs would add to their lead. Smith’s 24-yard scramble set up the next Chiefs touchdown. This time, Smith found tight end Travis Kelce on a 13-yard score just before halftime.
After the half, the Browns started hot and got back in the game. Manziel helped extend their opening drive with his legs. His 34-yard scramble was the longest of his career and the longest by a Browns quarterback since Tim Couch’s 40-yard scamper in 1999.
Isaiah Crowell’s ensuing 10-yard touchdown run capped off their nine play, 82-yard drive. Cleveland suddenly was down one score with plenty of time to play.
The Browns got the ball back after Kansas City’s next drive stalled. They nearly got even with the Chiefs too, but Manziel’s intentional grounding penalty—a panicked throw that landed in the unsuspecting arms of offensive lineman Mitchell Schwartz—forced Mike Pettine to go for it on fourth down with just 3:01 left to play.
Manziel’s fourth-down throw to Travis Benjamin sailed well over his head and into the corner of the end zone where no Browns receivers were present. It was a clear miscommunication between the two.
Cleveland got one final shot after forcing a Chiefs three-and-out. With no timeouts left, time expired as the team was running to the line of scrimmage following Manziel’s 14-yard completion to Darius Jennings.
Position Grades for Browns
Manziel was good at evading pressure and making things happen with his legs, but it wasn’t enough. His passes were erratic, and his footwork was noticeably off on a few of his misses.
He would have earned a higher grade had he been able to connect on a couple more key passes. His 136 passing yards and 19 incompletions really held his offense back this week.
Running Backs: B
Crowell and Johnson were serviceable, with the former having another good game running the ball. Johnson wasn’t able to do very much with his 11 touches, totaling just 31 yards.
Wide Receivers: C
What wide receivers?
Manziel targeted receivers on just 13 of his 32 pass attempts, and they weren’t able to do very much, totaling 56 yards for the game.
That’s over four yards per target.
Tight Ends: B
Another game, another day of Gary Barnidge leading the Browns in receiving yards. He finished with three catches on eight targets for 47 yards. Another pass in his direction was thrown short and intercepted, and another could have been a touchdown, but a missed defensive holding penalty interrupted his route.
Offensive Line: C+
It was a mixed bag from the Browns’ offensive line in Week 16. To their credit, they did open up some holes for Crowell and gave Manziel a lot of clean pockets.
But their performance did come against a Chiefs defense missing Tamba Hali and Justin Houston, and their grade sheets are not completely clean.
There were some missed assignments—notably Schwartz leaving Dee Ford unblocked on one particular play—and poor execution, especially in pass-blocking.
Defensive Line: B-
A couple of big-chunk runs by Alex Smith and Charcandrick West will ultimately negate an otherwise improved day by the Browns’ rush defense.
As a whole, they seemed to have had better luck winning their one-on-one matchups in the trenches. Most of the big runs are attributable to plays breaking down or defensive backs being out of position on the edge.
Orchard’s interception off Robertson’s tip—his first of his career—came after both players wrestled for the ball. His sack came after pressure flushed Smith from the pocket, and he cleaned up.
Either way, those were two highlights for the linebacker group, because other than that, they were noticeably absent from the rest of the game.
Defensive Backs: C-
Holding and pass interference penalties on Tramon Williams were the latest in a long string of negative plays by the veteran cornerback.
Tashaun Gipson missed a couple tackles and was responsible for Maclin on his first score of the game. Karlos Dansby was in zone coverage underneath, but Smith made a perfect throw to fit it in underneath Gipson.
K'Waun Williams was a bright spot for the group. He had a great game in coverage and in tackling.
Special Teams: C-
Penalties, a missed field goal and a converted fake punt were the highlights for the Browns' special teams unit in Week 16.
Having the team motivated and playing at a high enough level to even make this game competitive is a positive mark for the Browns coaching staff.
With how badly Manziel was struggling to throw, and how much the Browns were forced to run as a result, it’s surprising the team didn’t attempt more play-action or designed rollout plays for the quarterback.
Manziel Sets Franchise Rushing Mark
Manziel's 108 yards rushing against Kansas City were the most of his career and most by a Browns quarterback in a game in franchise history. Frank Ryan's previous record of 80 yards on nine attempts was set in 1962.
His 34-yard run was also a career long.
Manziel's game-high yards helped the Browns to 232 total yards rushing, their third-highest rushing total since 1999. They rushed for 230 yards as a team in a Week 15 win over the San Francisco 49ers.
This game had Manziel frequently on the run and under pressure, and his arm was letting him down. He made up for his passing struggles by moving the chains with his legs and nearly doing enough to help the Browns notch an upset win on the road.
Browns Go 21 Plays and Get a Field Goal
Trailing by seven in the third quarter, the Browns orchestrated a 21-play, 12-plus-minute drive that resulted in just three points. Manziel's bizarre intentional grounding toss to Schwartz ended the impressive stretch of plays.
That drive was the longest by any team in the NFL since 2012.
Manziel: This One's on Me
It turns out Manziel was playing with the flu, and he still played all four quarters with maximum effort.
But his best effort wasn’t enough, and Manziel acknowledged that, taking the blame for his team falling short in Kansas City.
Manziel specifically said the other guys and his coaches did enough to win, and it sucks because he missed too many throws and let them down, per Nate Ulrich of the Akron Beacon Journal.
He also said the fourth-down miscommunication with Benjamin was his fault because he incorrectly thought the receiver was on a “go” route—he ran a post and the ball sailed incomplete with no receiver in its vicinity.
It was an overall rough game, and it had to have been a rough press conference after missing so many throws and leaving so many others on the field.
Manziel will learn from games like this one, in Cleveland or if he lands elsewhere in the NFL.
Support Pours in for Manziel During Postgame Interviews
Manziel had a rough game overall but still earned support from a teammate, opponent and Hall of Fame quarterback.
Veteran defensive back Donte Whitner said because of Manziel's play the team had its quarterback situation figured out for next season, per Mary Kay Cabot of the Plain Dealer.
The Chiefs locker room was talking about the quarterback after the game, too.
"I think he is. He makes plays and most of them are good," Hall of Famer Len Dawson said, according to Tom Reed of the Plain Dealer. "That's what you are looking for in this league, guys who can make plays."
"He's terrific, really," Dawson said of Manziel. "He completely puzzled the defense of Kansas City because of his ability to move and throw on the move as well."
Chiefs pass-rusher Dee Ford, who chased Manziel around all day, also had some positive marks for the second-year quarterback.
"He's scary to play," Ford said after the game, per Cabot. "'Will he be successful?' Yes!"
The jury is still very much out on Manziel, but it's clear he's making plays and earning the respect of his peers, and even some others who have played the game.
All team quotes, stats and announcements obtained via press releases from Browns communications managers Rob McBurnett and Dan Murphy.