LANDOVER, Md. – Jogging away from the Washington sideline after a third-quarter incomplete pass, Johnny Manziel said he heard a barrage of trash talk behind him.
So without ever turning around, he threw his right hand in the air and gave his hecklers an over-the-shoulder, middle finger. He looked unfazed by the encounter, neither better nor worse afterwards.
Not that it went over well in the culture of the National Football League, thus becoming the point of discussion after Washington's 24-23 preseason victory here Monday.
"It does not sit well," Cleveland coach Mike Pettine said. "It;s disappointing because what we talk about is being poised and being focused."
"You just got to know the cameras are always on," fellow Browns quarterback Brian Hoyer said.
"Well, I wouldn't have [done] it," Cleveland cornerback Joe Haden said before laughing.
Manziel did do it and while he offered up some measure of contrition and acknowledgment about needing to keep his composure, he didn't look too upset about it. This is kind of what you'd expect out of Johnny Football, of course.
And really, what's so bad about flipping the bird to a bunch of clowns screaming smack at you?
"The whole time we were there, everyone was talking, just the worst things you could ever imagine to Johnny," Haden said. "It's so bad."
Manziel responded in a pretty meager, middle school way. Of all the things that happen on an NFL field, this is a big deal? Washington's Brian Orakpo mocked Manziel earlier by rubbing his fingers together in Johnny's "money" gesture and no one cared.
So, seriously, where's the negative?
"I mean I don't think it's a positive," Manziel said before laughing.
That was about as hard as he was going to be on himself.
Manziel knows his problem wasn't the middle finger, it was the over and underthrown passes on a 7-of-16, for 65 yards passing night where he didn't look like an NFL starting QB.
"I don't think I did a very good job [Monday night]," Manziel said.
His saving grace was that Hoyer, his chief competition for the job was no better – just 2-of-6 for 16 yards.
"It probably couldn't be any worse," Hoyer said. "Disappointing. Embarrassing. We started off poorly and we didn't really change after that."
Vulgar hand gestures are about the least of the Browns' concerns right now. Manziel said it didn't affect his play. It was just a moment in time.
"It doesn't distract me at all," Manziel said. "It's not a big thing to me. Like I said, I need to hold my composure better. It's just a gesture."
Because it's Manziel, it's not just a gesture. Nothing is just anything. His fame, moreso from his colorful personal life than his on-field success in college, has made him a lightning rod. Opposing players and fans aren't going to let up.
"It was hilarious," Orakpo told reporters of getting the middle finger back at him. This was a former Texas Longhorn making a point to hassle a former Texas A&M Aggie. "We were messing with him a little bit … we were having a little fun."
Manziel said he expects such a treatment.
"I get words and screams throughout the entirety of the game, every game, week after week," Manziel said. "And I should've been smarter, it's a Monday Night Football game, I just need to be smarter about that."
Maybe it wasn't ideal, but it was also a sign of a kid who isn't willing to take any crap. As we've always seen from him, he isn't going to abandon the fire that got him here, which is probably the only way he'll ever stay. He's never been much for conformity anyway.
Does he think it could cost him the starting job?
"No, no, no, no," he said.
Neither does his coach.
"No, it's whoever gives us the best chance to win the opener," Pettine admitted.
The first-year headman looked like someone coming to the realization that rather than having two quarterbacks he may have none. At the beginning of camp he boldly declared that he'd name his starter prior to the third preseason game, so a full dress rehearsal could be used.
After this preseason Week 2 debacle though, who knows how he picks anyone? He was actually asked if it was possible neither Hoyer nor Manziel would be ready for the regular season opener in Pittsburgh.
"Well, that's not a choice," Pettine said. "Somebody has to be ready."
In the meantime, Manziel will get lectured for throwing Washington the bird. If he could throw some accurate downfield passes though, no one will care, certainly not with this abomination of an offense.
That much, Johnny Manziel fully understands.
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