On the Cleveland Browns' first offensive play of the game, QB Johnny Manziel was untouched but had an empty-hand fumble that was recovered by the Pittsburgh Steelers. It was a sign of things to come in a wild game of twists and turns that, unfortunately, favored the Steelers big time in a 30-9 rout.
The Steelers started QB Landry Jones but had QB Ben Roethlisberger active as the backup, and it might have been a game-changing decision. Jones suffered an ankle injury on the team's second series, forcing Roethlisberger into action in the first quarter. Cleveland's pass rush could never get to Roethlisberger, who constantly stepped back and threw quick deep routes to his receivers. More times than not, they either ended up in long completions or long pass interference penalties.
It was a 6-3 game heading into the second quarter. With under four minutes left in the first half, the Steelers attempted another field goal that would've made it a 9-3 game. Instead, DL Armonty Bryant was flagged for "leverage" on the kick, giving the Steelers a fresh set of downs.
On the next play, Roethlisberger hit WR Antonio Brown for the touchdown and two-point conversion, making it a 14-3 game. WR Andrew Hawkins fumbled on the first play of the Browns' next drive, and they capitalized before the end of the half with a 32-yard touchdown from Roethlisberger to WR Martavis Bryant, making it a 21-3 game at the half.
Something that shouldn't be lost in the entire affair is that, despite the snafu on the first play, Manziel played very well against a Steelers defense that certainly never went into any form of a "prevent defense." In a game where Cleveland couldn't run the ball, Manziel completed 33 of 45 passes (73.3%) for 372 yards and 1 touchdown and 1 interception.
Cleveland also had a sequence in the second half where they had 1st-and-goal inside the 1, but eventually got pushed back to the 25 yard line and couldn't score. WR Travis Benjamin had a good game overall, but dropped as wide open of pass in the end zone as you can get in the NFL. Those two possessions of missed opportunities weren't the difference in the game, but neither were on Manziel -- the point is to argue that Manziel legitimately led this offense to several successful drives, and this probably should've been more like a 30-20 type of game.
The Browns now head into the bye week with two big looming questions:
- Who will be the team's quarterback on Monday Night Football against the Ravens?
- Will the coaching staff and front office remain in tact heading in to that game?
- QB Johnny Manziel: 33-of-45 passes (73.3%) for 372 yards, 1 TD, 1 INT, 1 fumble.
- Leading rusher: Manziel with 3 carries for 17 yards.
- QB Ben Roethlisberger: 22-of-33 (66.7%) for 379 yards, 3 TDs, 1 INT.
- WR Travis Benjamin: 7 catches, 113 yards.
- TE Gary Barnidge: 6 catches, 65 yards, 1 TD.
- Browns has 12 penalties for 188 yards, mostly via pass interference.
- Cleveland won the time of possession battle 32:43 to 27:17.