Browns start fast, then fade
SEATTLE (AP) — The script the Cleveland Browns wrote for Johnny Manziel was a perfect beginning, leaving the loudest venue in the NFL silenced.
Sustaining that initial success was where Cleveland ran into trouble on a day the Browns needed to be nearly perfect against playoff-bound Seattle.
“We can’t say we didn’t get down there and give ourselves a chance, but we have to execute in the red zone,” Manziel said. “I think we had plenty of opportunities to make the game close.”
Manziel and the Browns started well with a touchdown on their opening drive, but faded quickly in a 30-13 loss to Seattle on Sunday, thanks largely to Russell Wilson proving he should be in the conversation among the top quarterbacks in the NFL.
Wilson threw for three touchdown passes, two to Doug Baldwin, and became the only quarterback in league history to go five straight games with three or more touchdown passes and zero interceptions. Wilson found Baldwin on TDs of 6 and 3 yards in the first half and hit Tyler Lockett on a 27-yard touchdown on the first play of the fourth quarter to take a 27-10 lead.
Wilson’s performance capped a week where Cleveland coach Mike Pettine stirred debate by saying Wilson wasn’t in the top tier of NFL quarterbacks.
His opinion after seeing Wilson up close?
“I think he has such a good feel for what they’re doing,” Pettine said. “He prepares well, so he knows what you’re in and he knows where to go with the football.”
Coming off arguably the best game of his young career, Manziel didn’t make any critical mistakes but only got the Browns into the end zone once. Manziel was 19 of 32 for 161 yards and was intercepted by Marcus Burley with 2:06 remaining trying to force a throw downfield.
Manziel wasn’t fazed initially. He quieted the 12th Man on Cleveland’s first drive, leading the Browns on a 15-play march converting four third downs and hitting Gary Barnidge on a 7-yard TD strike. It was the first touchdown drive allowed by the Seahawks defense since the fourth quarter of their win over Pittsburgh, a span of 21 possessions.
Cleveland had 80 yards on its first possession, but just 27 the rest of the first half and 150 the remainder of the game. Cleveland twice drove inside the Seattle 20 and settled for field goals and punted from the Seattle 42 another time.
“It comes down to executing in the red zone, we didn’t do that today. You’ve got to turn two of those into touchdowns, at least,” Manziel said. “That was a big area for us that we needed to step up, we obviously did it on the opening drive didn’t the rest of the game.”
Cleveland was hampered by losing starting right guard John Greco on the second play of the game to injury and a run game that was mostly ineffective. Isaiah Crowell, coming off a career-high 145 yards last week, was held to 23. Duke Johnson Jr. rushed for 39 of his 46 yards on one carry.
Wilson was keeping Cleveland’s secondary busy all afternoon, completing 21 of 30 passes for 249 yards.
Baldwin’s two touchdown catches gave him 10 TDs over the past four games, joining Jerry Rice as the only players to accomplish the feat in a single-season. Baldwin also became the third wide receiver since 1960 with four straight games with multiple TD catches, joining Calvin Johnson in 2011 and Cris Carter in 1995.
While Baldwin was setting records, Jermaine Kearse had the best regular-season game of his career with seven catches for 110 yards.
“The efficiency of the offense is the best it’s been since we’ve been here,” Seattle coach Pete Carroll said.
Seattle got a gift at the end of the first half when Wilson hit Kearse for 39 yards on the final play, but Williams was flagged for facemask on Kearse as he tried to get extra yards. The flag extended the half for one play and Steven Hauschka hit the second of his three field goals.
“That was unfortunate that we ended up getting a hand high on the face mask and they came away with three points and now it’s a two-score game,” Pettine said. “That was a tough way to end the first half.”
NOTES: A week after recording nine sacks, the most in the NFL this season, the Browns sacked Wilson only twice. … Seattle RB Christine Michael led the Seahawks with 84 yards rushing on 16 carries. Seattle rushed for 182 yards, its 25th straight game with 100 yards rushing as a team. … Barnidge has nine touchdowns on the season, third among tight ends.
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