CLEVELAND, Ohio– According to ESPN and reporter Chris Mortensen, Johnny Manziel will start for the Browns in their upcoming game against the San Francisco 49ers.
Cleveland lost its seventh straight game Sunday as Andy Dalton threw two touchdown passes and ran for a score, leading the Cincinnati Bengals to a 37-3 win over the awful Browns, who lost their second game in six days and suffered their worst loss in 10 years.
“Tough. Frustrating,” said Browns coach Mike Pettine, whose days with Cleveland may be dwindling.
The Browns (2-10) were no match for the Bengals (10-2), who rolled through their AFC North rivals with ease and look every bit like a team capable of winning the Super Bowl this season.
With its biggest win over Cleveland, Cincinnati moved to the brink of making the playoffs for the fifth straight season, a stretch of success Browns fans haven’t seen in generations.
For the Browns, the season can’t end soon enough. Cleveland is 2-15 in its past 17 under Pettine, who was the last person to leave the Browns’ locker room following the game.
As he made his way out of FirstEnergy Stadium, Pettine signed autographs and shared a few hugs with friends before climbing into the passenger seat of a pickup truck to be driven home.
This wasn’t as gut-wrenching as the last-second loss to Baltimore on Monday, when the Ravens blocked a last-second field goal attempt and returned it 64 yards for a touchdown. This was a slow, methodical pummeling.
“This,” linebacker Paul Kruger said, “was a bad game. We just have to keep fighting.”
Quarterback Austin Davis, picked by Pettine over Johnny Manziel to make his first start, was unable to spark the Browns.
It wasn’t Davis’ fault as Cleveland lost two more wide receivers with injuries and the Browns were unable to move against a Cincinnati defense intent on pitching a shutout. The Bengals handed the Browns their worst loss since a 41-0 drubbing by Pittsburgh on Dec. 24, 2005.
Davis was the 24th quarterback to start for the Browns since 1999, and he suffered the same fate as most of his predecessors. He was sacked three times, harassed all game long and lost a lateral in the fourth quarter that running back Isaiah Crowell watched roll on the ground as the Bengals recovered.
Davis finished 25 of 38 for 230 yards. It was a commendable performance, but not enough for Pettine to guarantee giving him another start next week against San Francisco.
“We’ll make that decision tomorrow,” said Pettine, who benched Manziel for his off-field behavior. “We’ll circle back, circle up on it and see where we are with it.”
It may not matter who starts, and Browns fans have grown increasingly disgusted with their team. The stadium was only about half-full at the start, and when the Bengals went up 27-3 on Jeremy Hill’s 1-yard run, fans who stayed through halftime headed to the exits in droves.
Hill added insult to injury by leaping into the end zone stands to celebrate with some of the thousands of Bengals fans on hand. That move irritated Browns linebacker Chris Kirksey, who confronted Hill and was called for unsportsmanlike conduct – one of the few times the Browns showed any fight.
“I’m just trying to protect the house, that’s it,” Kirksey said.
Davis lost one of his only playmakers in the first half when Travis Benjamin, the team’s best receiver and only legitimate deep threat, injured his right shoulder when he fell hard trying to make a catch on the sideline.
Later, Marlon Moore went down with a rib injury, leaving Brian Hartline and recently activated rookie Darius Jennings as Davis’ only healthy receivers.
“It certainly wasn’t part of the plan,” Davis said. “But it is NFL football and guys get hurt and the next man up has to be ready. I think we are better than we showed. But at the end of the day, you’re only as good as the final score.”
NOTES: Starting LG Joel Bitonio left after reinjuring his left ankle. He had missed Cleveland’s past two games. … Jeff Garcia (2004) and Brian Hoyer (2013) are the only Browns QBs to win their first start with the team. … Hartline finished with 8 catches for 83 yards. … WR Terrelle Pryor, signed earlier in the week, was not active and WR Dwayne Bowe was a healthy scratch for the fifth time.