Newton expected to square off with rookie Manziel
CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) — Johnny Manziel said his first NFL start left him with a sour taste in his mouth.
Cleveland’s polarizing quarterback vows to be more decisive in his decision making this Sunday against the Carolina Panthers.
Manziel was 10 of 18 for 80 yards, and the Browns barely broke 100 total yards in a 30-0 home loss to the Cincinnati Bengals last week.
“I have to be more confident and trust in my eyes and trust what I’m seeing out there on the field,” Manziel said. “I felt like I was a little hesitant last week on a couple of throws and it really did hurt me throughout the game.”
Panthers coach Ron Rivera said Cam Newton will start at quarterback barring any setbacks before Sunday. Newton will return to the lineup after suffering two fractures in his lower back in an automobile accident on Dec. 9.
Browns coach Mike Pettine said while Manziel struggled in his NFL starting debut, he didn’t get much help from his teammates — on either side of the ball.
“There’s very little that went well for us,” Pettine said. “It was one of those games where it snowballed early, we fell behind and never got into a rhythm offensively and couldn’t get off the field defensively.”
Panthers defensive end Charles Johnson said Carolina plans to borrow a page from the Bengals’ playbook on how to stop Manziel. Johnson said the Bengals got pressure on Manziel with their front four, mixed up coverages, and at times kept a spy locked in on the 2012 Heisman Trophy winner.
“It’s a copycat league, so …” Johnson said with a smile.
The Panthers’ defense has improved dramatically in the second half of the season and moved up to 16th in the league. Carolina will be plenty motivated to slow down Manziel, and not only because they’d rather not see the rookie making any money gestures with his fingers in the end zone.
At 5-8-1, Carolina still has a chance to win the NFC South. Carolina trails New Orleans (6-8) by a half-game and can win the division if it wins out and the Saints lose once.
DECEMBER FREEZE: The Browns are trying to end a troubling pattern of late-season collapses. They’ve lost 10 straight games in December, with the last win coming on Dec. 9, 2010 at Kansas City. Cleveland is a woeful 3-19 in December since ending the 2009 season with four straight wins that saved coach Eric Mangini’s job. Mike Pettine had the Browns at 6-3 and he’s spent this week getting his team to focus on finishing strong.
“I cautioned them about looking back and cautioned them about looking forward,” Pettine said. “These opportunities are few and far between. We’ve got a real bad taste in our mouth. We’ve had it now for a month, and we need to get rid of it.”
STEWART ON A ROLL: The Panthers are expected to get DeAngelo Williams back from a broken hand, but it might behoove Rivera to stick with his hot hand: Jonathan Stewart. Stewart is averaging more than 100 yards rushing over the past three games. However, in the past Rivera has remained most loyal to Williams, the team’s all-time leading rusher, and started him whenever healthy.
RUNNING AWAY: Holes in Cleveland’s defense, an early-season issue, have reopened. Last week, the Browns gave up 241 yards rushing as Bengals rookie Jeremy Hill backed up his harsh assessment of Cleveland — “worse than I thought” — following a loss last month by gaining 148 yards and scoring twice. The Browns took bad angles, missed tackles and let the Bengals run wild.
“We did a lot of the little things wrong across the board, whether it was awareness, gathering information presnap to aiming points to how we played blocks,” Pettine said.
RED ZONE BLUES: The Panthers have struggled scoring touchdowns, all too often settling for field goals. Last week they reached Tampa Bay territory on all 11 possessions, but managed just one touchdown and four field goals. “You can’t win consistently in this league if you kick field goals,” Rivera said.
FINDING STABILITY: The Panthers have won back-to-back games for the first time since the first two games of the season. That can be at least partly attributed to a semblance of continuity on the offensive line, where the Panthers will start the same lineup for the fourth straight game.
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AP Sports Writer tom Withers in Cleveland, Ohio contributed to this report.