LANDOVER, Maryland — On a night when Johnny Manziel’s performance provided little of anything to discuss, the celebrity quarterback still provided plenty to talk about with his antics.
Manziel punctuated what was likely a wasted opportunity to become Cleveland’s starting quarterback by ending his night in ignominy. Manziel was caught on television and by the Twitterverse flipping off the Washington sideline during the third quarter of a 24-23 loss in the second game of the preseason.
The move led to the inevitable tuck-tail reactions from Manziel and Browns coach Mike Pettine. This is not exactly the kind of thing owner Jimmy Haslam was hoping for when he said earlier in training camp that he expected better of Manziel, especially after the rookie was recently fined for being late to a team meeting.
“This doesn’t sit well with me,” Pettine said. “What we talk about is being poised, being focused. You have to be able to maintain your poise. It’s a big part of all football players, especially the quarterback.”
For his part, Manziel was contrite, calling it a “slip-up” and saying that he “should have been smarter.” But the undercurrent of what he said is that he didn’t like how he was being talked to.
By all accounts, however, it was pretty benign stuff. Washington defensive end Brian Orakpo said some of the Washington players were saying, “This isn’t college anymore” to Manziel. Most other Washington players didn’t remember saying anything to Manziel.
Moreover, this was an exhibition game. When things don’t really even count yet. It makes you wonder how Manziel will handle it when things start to matter.
Manziel was completely mediocre in hitting seven of 16 passes for 65 yards and one touchdown. Brian Hoyer, his primary competition for the starting job, went 2-of-6 for 16 yards, while third-string rookie Connor Shaw managed to go 8-of-9 for 123 yards and a touchdown.
If Manziel manages to win the starting quarterback job between now and the season opener against Pittsburgh, it will be either because Hoyer gets hurt or aliens steal him from the planet.
It will not be because of Manziel’s play.
Although Pettine declined to say how he was leaning in the aftermath of the performance, it’s hard to imagine going into the season opener against the Steelers' complicated defense with a quarterback who continually struggled to hit receivers in open situations or do much of anything to attack Washington’s vanilla defense.
By the end of the third quarter, after being chased to his left and throwing another incomplete pass just in front of the Washington bench, Manziel turned and walked away. As he walked, he held up his right hand and flipped off the Washington bench. The fine for such transgressions is usually in the area of $10,000 to $20,000.
But perhaps the most telling part is that Washington players did little more than laugh at Manziel's faux pas. Or, more precisely, laughed at Manziel.
“That’ll cost him, but that’s OK, his daddy can pay for it with all that money they got,” defensive lineman Clifton Geathers said, referring to the fact that Manziel’s family is relatively well off.
Said another Washington player, referring to the likely fine Manziel will receive, “Johnny better be careful, he might need that money real soon.”
The undertone of that was obvious: Many Washington players weren’t all that impressed with Manziel.
Frankly, there was nothing to be impressed with.