CLEVELAND -- There are bad losses and there are painful losses.
But in Johnny Manziel's first start, the Cleveland Browns put an historic loss on the field, up there with the worst of the many historic Browns losses since the team returned to the field in 1999. It came in a big game, at a time when a much-hyped quarterback was supposed to give a spark as Cleveland made a final playoff push.
All the talk all week was Manziel this and Manziel that. But everyone forgot that the other team has a say, and those with the Browns who felt Manziel would give the Browns a better chance to win have some seriously bad numbers to digest following a 30-0 loss Sunday.
The Browns were shut out for the first time since November 2009.
Manziel becomes the sixth quarterback in the last 20 years to be shut out in his first start, and the first since Rusty Smith of Tennessee in 2010. The others: Dave Ragone of Houston (2003), Henry Burris of Chicago (2002), Spergon Wynn of Cleveland (2000) and Danny Wuerffel of New Orleans (1997).
Manziel is the 21st starting quarterback for the Browns since 1999, and the fifth to be shut out in his first start. The others: Ty Detmer in the first game back in ’99, Bruce Gradkowski, Wynn and Doug Pederson. Pederson and Gradkowski joined the Browns the week before starting because of injuries to the starter.
The offense had more than 100 yards for the day only because the Bengals scored a touchdown with 30 seconds left. The Browns got a final play with 18 seconds left and Manziel threw a slip screen for nine yards.
To that point, the offense had the ball nine times, and had seven three-play possessions. Three of those were for negative yards.
The Browns ran 38 offensive plays, the fewest by any team this season and fewest by the Browns since Week 1 of 1999, when they ran 28 plays against the Steelers in a 43-0 loss.
Manziel’s final numbers speak for themselves: 10-for-18 for 80 yards with no touchdowns and two interceptions (and another called back). His rating: 27.3, which is just above the number of times Bengals defenders gave Manziel his signature money move. It probably looked worse than the numbers show, too, as there were times Manziel was simply overmatched by the speed and strength of the players he faced.
His play was such that coach Mike Pettine admitted he would not fall on the "I have to see the film" bromide.
"Looked like a rookie, played like a rookie," Pettine said.
But to pin all this on Manziel is not totally fair, because this was as bad a team effort as the Browns have had in a long time. Manziel's contributions were minimal, but so were the rest of the team’s.
The Browns chafed at rookie Jeremy Hill chortling at them after the Browns won the first game in Cincinnati, when Hill said the Browns weren’t that good. Hill ran over, through and around them for 148 yards.
The running game totaled 53 yards and averaged 3.1 per carry, the offensive line did not protect, Manziel did not read the field and, well, the Browns lost by 30 in a game the Bengals quarterback barely had to work.
It’s not a new show in Cleveland.
The Browns since 1999 have fed the "next great thing" monster as well as any team in the league. It’s fueled by impatience and the constant change and rebuilding that have whoever is in charge feeling they can find the next "savior."
Pettine fought it off as long as he could, but even he gave in and started Manziel. Based on the game it’s hard to say what Manziel showed in practice to breed belief that he gave the team its best chance to win. It sure did not appear on Sunday.
Perhaps Manziel will be the one to change things. Pettine said nobody should judge him on one game. But he has some ignominious company in the negative marks he set
After the game, Manziel talked of the situation not being overwhelming for him or too difficult, visual evidence to the contrary.
He talked of building something positive for next season.
He talked of learning and wiping it away.
Of the confidence the team had in drafting him.
But as he spoke the ghosts of Browns quarterbacks past floated by (a shadowy Brandon Weeden, a glum Brady Quinn), all chained by expectation and futility.
Meanwhile, the Bengals laughed all the way back to Cincinnati. Because they are the team in first place in the AFC North, while the Browns again are a team wondering what in the heck just hit them.