Manziel comes up short in Browns’ loss

Stories, scores and stats from opening weekend.

- Jeff Moeller Special for USA TODAY Sports EAST RUTHERFORD, N. J.

It was going to be the quarterbac­k story of the day, even bigger than what was happening in Tampa, where rookies Jameis Winston and Marcus Mariota were going toe-to-toe.

Johnny Manziel was going to come off the bench for injured Josh McCown, primed to save the Cleveland Browns. On his first series, Manziel tossed a 54-yard touchdown pass (the first of his NFL career) to Travis Benjamin, giving the Browns a 7-0 second-quarter lead on the road against the New York Jets.

Johnny Football was back. He was, pardon the expression, money. Then reality set in. When the Browns looked back on their 3110 loss, they realized it was probably too much to ask of Manziel, whom head coach Mike Pettine defended.

“He got the typical reps as a No. 2 quarterbac­k, and it’s a tough spot for any backup quarterbac­k to come in and play three quarters,” Pettine said. “I think he did some good things, but he needs to be more protective of the ball.”

In the second half, Manziel threw one intercepti­on and lost two fumbles as the Browns failed to score. The Jets, meanwhile, converted two of those turnovers into touchdowns.

no-hitter in baseball?”

Something like that. In Mariota’s case, it also was the perfect way to christen a career.

The Titans rookie was sharp, making quick decisions and no boneheaded blunders. In short, he looked polished.

Coach Ken Whisenhunt wisely expanded his pro-style offense to mix in components of the zone-option scheme that Mariota won a Heisman Trophy with at Oregon. It’s called tailoring your needs to your talent, and in this case it just added to Mariota’s comfort zone. In the final equation, he had more touchdown passes (four) than incompleti­ons (three), in connecting on 13 of 16 throws for 209 yards. The numbers also included going 10-for-10 from the shotgun, reminiscen­t of his time as a Duck.

“He ran the offense,” Whisenhunt said, trying to sound as understate­d as possible. Whisenhunt knows. It’s just one week. But the veteran coach took his team back to Nashville with a good “problem” after such a perfect day that the Titans — yes, the Titans — are all alone in first place in the AFC South. In the locker room after the game, Whisenhunt reminded his team that last year it started 1-0, too, with a hard-fought road victory.

And last year, it was a mirage. The Titans finished 2-14.

This time, though, the hope is much more substantia­l because of Mariota. Yet it’s pretty apparent this smashing debut won’t go to the rookie’s head. After he was pulled, he started thinking about Week 2 at the Cleveland Browns against fellow Heisman winner Johnny Manziel.

“It means we’re 1-0,” Mariota said about his debut. “One day at a time.”

He barely showed any emotion on the field or coming off it. This is apparently who he is, which is a good thing for the Titans. “My dad told me, you’ve got to act like you’ve been there before,” he said.

Now he’s gone somewhere where no one else has: the first quarterbac­k in NFL history to put up a perfect passer rating in Week 1. Beyond that, this is just as impressive: Mariota and the Titans scored 35 points in the first half.

Last season, the most points the Titans scored in an entire game was 28.

While the comparison of the rookie quarterbac­ks is natural and apropos, it is not complete without a word about the Tampa Bay defense. Mariota’s big day was well-earned for sure, but it was bolstered by the type of coverage you see during seven-on-seven drills in organized team activities. Nothing tight. Big windows. Like giving candy to Mariota.

Winston, meanwhile, hurt himself with ill-advised throws. His first regular-season pass, an out route, was too soft. Coty Sensabaugh picked it off and raced 26 yards for the pick-six. Later in the half, Winston looked to lob a pass to the flat. Too soft. Too careless. Rookie linebacker Deiontrez Mount was in the way. Mount, barely jumping, snagged the intercepti­on.

Winston had a few nice moments, but the first game of his career will be remembered for the blunders — and how he was upstaged by the player drafted right after him.

It was a great start for Mariota, but it’s way too early for long-term conclusion­s. After all, Mariota is the first rookie quarterbac­k to post a perfect passer rating since 2012 ... by a since-fizzled star named Robert Griffin III, who was picked second himself after Andrew Luck.

 ??  ?? ED MULHOLLAND, USA TODAY SPORTS Browns quarterbac­k Johnny Manziel, right, is hit Sunday by Jets cornerback Buster Skrine.
ED MULHOLLAND, USA TODAY SPORTS Browns quarterbac­k Johnny Manziel, right, is hit Sunday by Jets cornerback Buster Skrine.

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