Browns thought trick play was legal

CLEVELAND -- Johnny Manziel almost became the third quarterback to catch a pass in Sunday's NFL games.

But the gadget play he ran in the Cleveland Browns' 23-21 loss to the Baltimore Ravens was called back by penalty -- and should have been flagged for another 15-yard penalty for unsportsmanlike conduct, according to the NFL office. That position was supported by several former NFL officials working as network analysts.

The play was an offshoot of the read-option plays Manziel had been running for the Browns and involved some acting.

After a read-option on first-and-10 from the Browns' 39-yard line lost a yard, Manziel trotted to the sideline, gesturing as if he were unhappy to leave the field.

He stood about 1 yard on the field and talked with offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan as the Browns lined up for the next play.

At the snap, he turned upfield and caught a 39-yard pass from Brian Hoyer for what looked like a big gain.

"[I] tried to get them a little confused as we were subbing in," Manziel said. "We really got the look that we wanted, and we took off."

But the play was negated by a penalty on Browns running back Terrance West for an illegal shift. West jumped back behind Brian Hoyer just before the snap and clearly was not set for a second.

The league office, though, referred to page 64 of the rule book, which states unsportsmanlike conduct is "Using entering substitutes, legally returning players, substitutes on sidelines, or withdrawn players to confuse opponents, including lingering by players leaving the field after being replaced by a substitute and an offensive player lining up or going in motion less than five yards from the sideline in front of his team's designated bench area. However, an offensive player is permitted to line up less than five yards from the sidelines on the same side as his team's player bench, provided he is not in front of the designated bench area."

The designated bench area is between the 32-yard-lines, and the Browns ran the play from their 38.

ESPN analyst Gerald Austin, Mike Carey on CBS and Mike Pereira of Fox also said the play was illegal.

The Browns disagreed.

"It was our understanding that where he was lined up was sufficient," coach Mike Pettine said.

"From our knowledge it was a legal play," Hoyer said. "From what we were told -- and we practiced it that way all week -- was, as long as he doesn't come off the field and try to come back on, it's a legal play."

Which might be true, but according to the official-turned-analysts, Manziel still had to line up at least 5 yards from the boundary.

Bill Leavy's crew missed that call, though, and, had West been set, it would have been a big -- and memorable -- play for Manziel and the Browns.

"I played receiver in high school," Manziel said. "So it really wasn't a big deal. Just one play in the game. I wish we could have not had the penalty, but that's how it goes."