Johnny Manziel believes he still can be a starting NFL quarterback.
The Cleveland Browns backup quarterback, filling in for injured starter Josh McCown, showed in the first half of a 31-10 loss to the Bengals that he is capable of doing the job he was drafted for in 2014.
In one of the best halves of his young career, the second-year quarterback was 11 of 18 passing for 128 yards and one touchdown through two quarters, but he managed just 40 yards the rest of the way – in large part because of adjustments made by the Bengals defense.
The Browns trailed just 14-10 at halftime but recorded just 32 yards of offense in the second half.
“I think things slowed down a little bit, and I was on the same page with the offensive line,” Manziel said. “They played us pretty basic in the second half, but they made some good adjustments.”
Manziel looked surprisingly poised in the first half, enough so to guide the Browns 92 yards on a scoring drive that cut the Bengals lead to four points just before the break. He connected with Duke Johnson on a 12-yard touchdown on third-and-5, just getting the pass off before darting out of bounds on one of several plays he made while scrambling out of the pocket.
Those plays weren’t available in the second half. Manziel finished with 31 yards on four carries.
“Quarterbacks like Johnny you have to keep them in the pocket because their strength is their feet, so obviously that’s the plays he wants,” said Bengals defensive end Carlos Dunlap, who had two sacks on Manziel. “He wants to roll out. He wants to scramble. He wants guys chasing him so he can make a scramble and throw down field. That’s what he did early in the first half, so we came in and made corrections to contain Johnny and try to make him an NFL quarterback, and that wasn’t his strength, and we were able to stop him as a defense.”
Browns coach Mike Pettine credited the Bengals for their adjustments, but said Manziel also needed to be able to make plays in the pocket.
“I thought he did some good things, but I just thought in the second half, especially after we fell behind, he was just trying to make too many big plays instead of taking completions,” Pettine said. “It’s also a function of … how well did we play around him? I don’t know if in the second half we played well enough around him for him to play well.”
Manziel had a 101.2 rating in the first half but finished with a 71.3.
It was overall a much different performance for Manziel than his start against the Bengals last year in Cleveland when he was 10 of 18 passing for 80 yards and two touchdowns with three interceptions in the 30-0 loss for the Browns.
However, Manziel said the second half was “eerily familiar,” referring to that game.
The Browns didn’t manage a first down in the second half until the final drive. Manziel had rushed for one on his team’s first drive of the third quarter but the Bengals challenged the spot and the play was reversed to keep him inches short.
“We hurt ourselves in the second half,” Manziel said. “We didn’t do enough. It’s a game of little things, and we didn’t do the little things in the second half. We didn’t get a first down, and instead had fourth-and-inches. We had some momentum coming into the half, so we really needed that.”
Manziel, who is the Browns’ ninth quarterback in five seasons, had 393 yards passing in four appearances entering Thursday, which marked his second start of the season.
He said he is ready to go back out and play, though Pettine wouldn’t commit to a starter for the next game. The Browns travel to Pittsburgh on Nov. 15.
“The schedule doesn’t get any easier,” Manziel said. “ … Our faith is being tested. Our season isn’t going the way we want it to go, but we have a lot of fight in us.”