Johnny Manziel picked an interesting time to have his best preseason game.
It was the Cleveland Browns' first exhibition game at home.
It also was four days after Brian Hoyer was named the starter and Manziel the backup.
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Maybe it took a little pressure off Manziel, who has been put through the blender since late July, whether he brought some of it on himself or not. But the rookie quarterback gave the fans (some of) their money's worth by scrambling for a touchdown on his first drive of the evening after relieving Hoyer.
"Absolutely," Manziel said of the pressure being off. "Just go out and play ball and have fun."
That was the highlight of Manziel's night for sure, and there were some fireworks on Twitter later when Michael Sam sacked Manziel in a collision of the 2014 NFL draft's most buzzy players.
The reality of Manziel's night is that his passing statistics (10-of-15 for 85 yards) with the second-team offense against the St. Louis Rams' second-team defense were remarkably similar to those of Hoyer (10-of-16 passing, 84 yards), who did his work with the Browns' starters against the Rams' top defense, although Hoyer had a passing touchdown and an interception.
After the game, Browns head coach Mike Pettine reinforced his decision from earlier in the week: Hoyer remains the starter for Week 1 at Pittsburgh despite the first-team offense not looking great most of the preseason, and again not for most of Saturday night.
#Browns Hoyer's 1st TD of preseason comes on his 12th drive, a 5-yarder to hawkins vs. 2nd team D. But I'm nitpicking here.— Mary Kay Cabot (@MaryKayCabot) August 24, 2014
As for a potential package that features Manziel getting a series or two in a game he doesn't start, Pettine — who once ruled such a thing out — said that possibility is at least on the table and is something the Browns would consider.
"I think any way that I can contribute to this team, whether it's looking at a certain coverage or looking at something during the game, and having a certain package for me, whatever I can do to try to help this offense, help this team in the position I am in, that's all I want to do," Manziel said.
For the preseason to date, Manziel has completed 24-of-42 passes for 213 yards with one touchdown, and has rushed for 33 yards and a score. He certainly can expect to get a fair amount of work in the Browns' preseason finale on Thursday against the Chicago Bears, although it will be interesting to see if Pettine gives Hoyer and the first-team offense a few more snaps than you'd typically see out of a first unit in a fourth preseason game as a way of helping get it more reps.
Still, Manziel likely must keep waiting for now. Even if he were to come in and spark the Browns in a moonlight or specialty role for a series to two, it's unlikely he'd be the starter — barring an injury to Hoyer — prior to October.
But we have a pretty strong feeling we'll be hearing from him again soon. Browns fans in attendance at this game got a little taste of their future starter, and Manziel rewarded them with one play they can latch onto and keep until the time is right for him to take over for good.
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