The Cleveland Browns were in trouble at halftime even though they were leading 3-0 over the Buffalo Bills at Ralph Wilson Stadium.
Why? Because they pretty much dominated the half and yet had only a three-point lead. Billy Cundiff missed a 37-yard field goal, his third miss inside 40 yards in the last three games.
The Bills had only one sustained drive, and that resulted in Jim Leonhard’s interception in the end zone.
Otherwise, the Browns controlled the game. They had two drives of 15 plays and yet put only three points on the scoreboard.
Once the second half started, once again Cleveland made big plays yet couldn’t do anything.
Bills’ QB Kyle Orton’s second half of the half was intercepted by Joe Haden, giving the brown and orange the ball on the Buffalo 30 yard line.
But the offense could do nothing and a sack of Brian Hoyer resulted in the Browns having to punt, thus getting no points out of the turnover.
And that was really the story of the game. Buffalo got 10 points off of the three Cleveland turnovers, while the Browns didn’t or couldn’t take advantage of the Bills’ two.
Yet, all anyone will be talking about is who will start at quarterback for the Browns next week at home against Indianapolis, because after Hoyer’s second pick, his fifth in the last two games without a touchdown, coach Mike Pettine decided to give first round draft pick Johnny Manziel a shot.
And the rookie took advantage on his first drive, moving the Browns down the field and getting into the end zone himself on a 10-yard run.
He looked poised and in charge, telling players to get in the correct position. He didn’t look like he was unsure at all.
The next time Cleveland got the ball, he looked like a rookie, almost fumbling (the officials ruled his arm going forward) and throwing a 5-yard pass on 4th down and 6, thereby turning the ball over to Buffalo.
Still, we can understand Pettine’s decision.
Hoyer’s chief attribute this season was not making the big mistake and in the last two games he has committed five turnovers, putting undo pressure on the Cleveland defense.
If he’s not going to take care of the football, why not go with the guy with the better arm and more mobility.
That’s not to say that Manziel should be the starter next Sunday. It could be that Pettine and offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan was sending a message to Hoyer that carelessness cannot and will not be tolerated.
Or perhaps the coaching staff feels Manziel is ready to play after watching 11 games from the sidelines, and his time is now.
It’s a delicate decision because only Cincinnati won in the AFC North today, meaning the Browns are still tied for second at 7-5 with the Steelers and Ravens, and don’t forget, the Bengals come here in two weeks.
There is no doubt that whatever Pettine decides it will over analyzed and over discussed.
Hoyer needs to have a strong running game to play well, and the Bills put eight and nine men in the box regularly, determined to stop the run.
Isaiah Crowell had just 29 yards in 17 carries, and even though Terrance West had 32 in seven attempts, his fumble gave the Bills a 14-3 lead when it was returned for a touchdown. Cleveland gained just 2.8 yards in 26 attempts.
On defense, Joe Haden made life miserable for rookie WR Sammy Watkins, who caught just three passes for 11 yards. After a slow start to the season, Haden is showing again why he is an elite cornerback.
Now, the season is into the last quarter, and the Browns, despite today’s loss are right in the thick of the playoff race. So, while fans may want to look toward the future with Manziel, Pettine still wants to win games. He now faces the controversial decision of just who gives him the best chance to do that.