LANDOVER, Md. -- The highlight of the night for the Cleveland Browns' starting offense Monday, the night on which their quarterback competition was supposed to be culminating, was a field goal. On a drive that featured no completions. On a drive that started from the Washington Redskins' 15-yard line. On a drive that advanced four yards.
Pity Mike Pettine, because on the day he wanted to choose the quarterback who will start the season for him in the most highly anticipated competition in the NFL this season, this is his choice: bad or worse.
"It probably couldn't have been any worse," Brian Hoyer, the presumptive leader, said of his own performance. "It's embarrassing."
You can slot Hoyer and Johnny Manziel into whichever description you like, but the end result was the same in the Browns' 24-23 loss to the Redskins: unsightly. Cleveland's offense had no rhythm, no success, no hope with either of them. They both threw poor passes, receivers dropped some of the catchable ones, and both QBs were sacked when the protection broke down.
Hoyer went three-and-out on his first two drives and his first completion did not come until his fourth drive, the Browns' sixth, with 2:17 remaining in the first half, and fittingly it was fumbled by fourth-string tight end MarQueis Gray. For Manziel, the occasional flash of promise -- he completed a 17-yarder to Gray on a rollout to his right out of the end zone -- was followed later by an ugly incompletion when the rookie quarterback, under pressure, threw off his back foot, a fundamental no-no.
Another no-no: In the third quarter, cameras captured Manziel directing an obscene gesture toward the Washington bench as he jogged away from it. Manziel said he is constantly taunted by opposing players and fans; teammate Joe Haden supported this claim, saying the quarterback was hearing "the worst things you can imagine." Pettine, who was told about the gesture after the game, said it did not sit well with him and he would address it with Manziel. Haden, with a smile, said he probably wouldn't have made the gesture.
"I mean, I don't think it's a positive," Manziel said when he was asked if he thought he did a bad thing in making the gesture.
Then again, there wasn't much positive about anything from the Browns' offense. Pettine's frustration with the entire evening was obvious. He conducted most of his press conference with his hands on his hips, like an exasperated father dealing with children who won't do what he wants. Pettine also said all options are still on the table -- including the possibility that he will not choose a starter this week, to give Manziel and Hoyer another game to prove themselves. The competition, which the Browns began with the hopes that one of the quarterbacks would seize the job, has devolved to the point that Pettine was asked if it was conceivable that neither Manziel nor Hoyer would be the starter.
"It's not a choice," Pettine replied. "Somebody has to be ready for the opener."
Perhaps the only person happy about the Browns' quarterbacking plight was Washington linebacker Brian Orakpo. He mockingly made Manziel's now-famous money sign after Ryan Kerrigan sacked the rookie to end his first drive. Orakpo shouldn't be too excited. Robert Griffin III didn't look so great for large stretches of the night, either, sliding awkwardly at one point, coming up slightly limping at another, taking at least three unnecessary hits on one scramble and staring down a receiver just before throwing an interception.
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Hoyer, the limited-experience veteran who last year sparked Cleveland before suffering a knee injury, entered the game leading the competition and perhaps he left it that way, too. Manziel certainly did nothing here to seize the job. But neither of them did anything to disprove the old adage about quarterbacks that Pettine scoffed at last weekend: If you have two quarterbacks, you have no quarterback. To whit: Hoyer finished the night 2 of 6 for 16 yards and a passer rating of 42.4. Manziel, who played into the fourth quarter, was 7 of 16 for 65 yards and a touchdown and one rush for minus-1 yard. The touchdown came against Washington's backup defense early in the fourth quarter on a shovel pass to running back Dion Lewis.
Pettine had planned to name the starter this week, so that his choice could get all the practice work with the starting unit and the bulk of the playing time in the third preseason game. That plan might fall apart now, which is too bad because the offense clearly needs time together. The game started for the Browns ominously. Hoyer was sacked on the first snap when Kerrigan, one of the league's best pass rushers, was untouched. On the second snap, Browns left tackle Joe Thomas committed a false start. Through the first 16 Browns drives of the preseason with Hoyer or Manziel under center, the team has scored just one touchdown.
"We need to score touchdowns," Pettine said.
Both quarterbacks denied that they are pressing because the competition is looming over them, although Manziel conceded that he did not feel decisive at the start of the game, even though he recognized what he was seeing from the defense. The question Pettine must weigh now is whether the competition is actually preventing the quarterbacks from playing their best and the shuffling is throwing off the timing of the entire unit, or if he needs much more information to make what now appears will be, at best, a fingers-crossed projection about how either Hoyer or Manziel will perform when the regular season begins in Pittsburgh.
Pettine had been anxious to make the decision and move forward with his first season at the helm. But perhaps no more anxious than many of his players, who can look ahead to a decision that will mean an end to the questions about a quarterback competition that has gone awry.
"That would be amazing," Haden said.
So would someone actually winning it.