Football / Sports

No knockout punch in QB derby as Browns fall to Lions in preseason opener

DETROIT -- Brian Hoyer didn't dazzle in the preseason opener Saturday night at Ford Field, but he didn't disastrously fold under the pressure applied by Johnny Manziel, either.

In Mike Pettine's debut as an NFL head coach, the Browns lost to the Detroit Lions 13-12. Receiver Corey Fuller beat the coverage of cornerback T.J. Heath and caught a 21-yard touchdown pass from third-string quarterback Kellen Moore with 1:05 remaining to lift the Lions to victory.

But everyone knows the final scores of exhibition games don't matter.

However, it is at least somewhat meaningful that when the dust settled, Hoyer still looked like the slight front-runner to become the starting quarterback for the Browns heading into their Sept. 7 regular-season opener at Pittsburgh.

Meanwhile, in Manziel's debut as a professional, he looked exactly like what he is at this stage -- a rookie with a tremendous ability to make plays with his feet who's also going to take some lumps as he tries to adjust to the NFL.

But the hottest position battle in Cleveland isn't over yet. Neither quarterback has seized control, and NFL Network reported Manziel would start the second preseason game Aug. 18 on the road against the Washington Redskins. Pettine has said he wants to name starters at all positions before the third exhibition game Aug. 23 against St. Louis.

During Hoyer's first game action against an opponent since he suffered a torn anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee last Oct. 3, he maneuvered well and led the Browns on two field goal drives in three series, all of which were against the Lions' starters. He completed 6-of-14 passes (42.8 percent) for 92 yards, posting a passer rating of 65.2.

But those statistics are deceiving because at least two of Hoyer's passes were dropped. Receiver Miles Austin failed to haul in what should have been a 29-yard completion along the sideline at the Lions 5-yard line. Two plays later, Austin caught a 13-yard pass from Hoyer on fourth-and-5 at the Lions 34.

Later during the same drive, Hoyer's pass on third-and-goal from the 8 went off All-Pro wide receiver Josh Gordon's hands in the back of the end zone. With the chance to score a touchdown squandered, the Browns settled for Billy Cundiff's successful 26-yard field goal that gave them a 6-3 lead with 11:10 remaining in the second quarter.

"It was good to be back out on the field with my teammates, to go out there and move the ball," Hoyer said. "We kind of killed ourselves with some things. There are definitely a couple reads I would like to take back and a few throws. But for the most part, it's good to get out there and play against someone else."

Hoyer seemed a little too hyped out of the gate for his own good. During the offense's first series, his second-down pass from the Lions 39 intended for Gordon sailed too high. On third down, he threw the ball away under pressure, and Spencer Lanning was summoned to punt.

Another high throw haunted Hoyer during the Browns' next possession when the ball went through the hands of 5-foot-7 slot receiver Andrew Hawkins on third-and-6 from the Lions 25. The Browns were left with Cundiff's 43-yard field goal that tied the score at 3 with 1:43 left in the first quarter.

Manziel entered the game with 7:32 left in the second quarter and played primarily with backups. Tight end Jim Dray was the only starter left in the lineup.

In four series, Manziel completed 7-of-11 passes (63.6 percent) for 63 yards, posting a passer rating of 79. Undrafted rookie receiver Willie Snead dropped one of Manziel's passes. He also ran six times for 27 yards (4.5 average), including a long gain of 16 yards.

Manziel led the offense on one field-goal drive. Another series likely would have led to a score if the Lions hadn't recovered running back Dion Lewis' fumble at their 31 with 4:29 left in the third quarter. Manziel was replaced by Tyler Thigpen early in the fourth quarter.

The Lions opened the game at their 49 thanks to Jeremy Ross' 49-yard kickoff return. In his only series, quarterback Matthew Stafford led the Lions to the Browns 19 before the drive stalled when his off-target pass intended for receiver Kris Durham fell incomplete on third-and-7. Nate Freese made 37-yard field goal to give the Lions a 3-0 advantage with 11:09 left in the first quarter.

Those were the only points allowed by the Browns starting defense in its three series, two of which were against backups. Outside linebacker Barkevious Mingo's sack of second-string quarterback Dan Orlovsky during the second series was the top highlight provided by the starting defense.

"We did pretty well," Browns strong safety Donte Whitner said. "I feel like we ran to the football and we didn't make mental errors. We tackled pretty well. We've just got to get off the field on third down. That's something that's correctable."

(c)2014 Akron Beacon Journal (Akron, Ohio)

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