CINCINNATI -- The first half was fun.
But once the Cincinnati Bengals committed to keeping Johnny Manziel in the pocket, the Cleveland Browns had no answer and the Bengals remained unbeaten with a 31-10 victory over the Browns. Cleveland lost its fourth game in a row, and 12th in the past 14 going back to last season.
Manziel started for the injured Josh McCown and had a good first half, with 128 yards passing, a touchdown and several big downfield throws when he was able to escape the pocket and throw on the run.
But in the second half the Bengals kept him in the pocket, and the results weren’t pretty. The Browns started with four three-and-out possessions, and Manziel was sacked twice on the third. He ended the half 4-for-15 for 40 yards, with three sacks.
Cincinnati pulled away for what was an easy win.
What it means: It's a close call, but Manziel should stay on the field. The Browns know what they have in McCown, and Manziel showed enough in the first half to justify playing him more even after the poor performance after halftime. The Browns didn't do this after the second game, when Manziel started in a win over Tennessee. With an off Sunday and a bye week after the next game in Pittsburgh, the Browns play one game in 25 days. That’s plenty of time to give Manziel the practice reps to be ready to start the rest of the season.
What were they thinking? Defensive tackle Randy Starks helped the Bengals in the second quarter with two penalties on a touchdown drive. Starks' taunting penalty on the first play gave the Bengals 15 yards. He then lined up offside on fourth-and-2 to give Cincinnati a first down. The Bengals scored two plays later.
A reason to be excited: In the first half, Manziel did not simply escape the pocket and try to run. He was looking downfield to make a play, and that is a step in his development. On the Browns' 92-yard touchdown drive, Manziel accounted for 63 yards with three completions after he escaped the pocket. There were times he ran and it was warranted, but those throws after scrambling were impressive.
A reason to be concerned: When Manziel had to stay in the pocket, he was ineffective. He was not helped by dropped passes, but once the Bengals decided to keep him contained he did not have the same success. Manziel's mobility is a strength, but how he fares from the pocket will be far more important in the long run than what he does on the run.
Up next: The Browns travel to Pittsburgh to play the Steelers in their last game before the bye.