NFL Wire News

Manziel, Browns find reason to finish strong

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BEREA, Ohio — A familiar refrain meets Cleveland in mid-December: when the regular season expires in two weeks, so do the Browns.

The Browns will still be mathematically alive in the AFC wildcard playoff chase at kickoff for their game against the Carolina Panthers at 1 p.m. ET on Sunday in Charlotte, but realistically they played themselves out of contention with consecutive losses to the Buffalo Bills, Indianapolis Colts and Cincinnati Bengals the past three weeks.

At one point, the Browns were 6-3, but at 7-7 they are in last place in the AFC North. The Browns are 3-21 in games played in December since winning their last four games in 2009.

The mission for head coach Mike Pettine is to get his team to play with an edge against the Panthers and against the Ravens in the final game. The Browns were uninspired in their 30-0 loss to the Bengals.

“They (games) matter,” Pettine said. “They matter to us for sure. We have to find a way. It all falls back to our ability to compartmentalize. I know the Indy game took a lot out of us. Looking back, did it have an effect (against the Bengals)? Maybe it did.

“I know it was not just a very physical game for us, especially defensively the number of snaps we played, but it was just, emotionally, I think deflating. We’ve got to find a way to bounce back. This isn’t Major League Baseball where we’ve got 162 opportunities. We’ve got two left out of 16, and no one is more important, no one is more meaningful than the one this weekend.”

The game is especially important for rookie quarterback Johnny Manziel. Manziel made his first NFL start in the loss to the Bengals and it was a disaster. He completed 10 of 18 passes for 80 yards and threw two interceptions.

Many things went wrong. The offensive line was out of sync with Manziel calling signals. Timing with receivers was off.

Last week was the first time Manziel got the bulk of practice time with the starters. Another week together should help smooth out the many wrinkles that were exposed.

Manziel said he never played in a game at any level in which the offense was shut out with him at quarterback. He said the experience was “humbling.”

“Anytime that you’re humbled I think it can be an eye-opener,” Pettine said. “That pertains to anybody. When things have come easy for you in the past or where you get some players, ‘Hey, I think I’ve got this thing figured out,’ then something like that happens to you, I think that type of game humbles all of us.

“We had been able to do some things in the past that we weren’t able to do. That’s something that — as an organization, coaches, just staff and team — we’ve got to regroup, and we’ve got to regroup in a hurry.”

With seven victories the Browns have already guaranteed they won’t finish in double-figure losses as they have the past six years. If they win the last two games they will have their first winning record since 2007.

“I feel we owe it to ourselves to come out these last two weeks and try and get these wins to boost our record and really show…we’ve obviously worked really hard to get these wins, and we want to continue and try improve on those and get more with the two left that we have on our schedule,” Manziel said.

For Manziel, he’s focusing on growing chemistry with starters and offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan.

“It’s all about reps,” Manziel said. “It’s all about getting as many reps as possible as getting in there with the No. 1s and getting even more and more comfortable with them. This is a process both for Kyle being involved with me as a quarterback. This is our first time being together even though we’ve been together all year, first time being the guy under center. We’re both figuring stuff out as we go and too our strengths and our weakness. We’re learning.”

SERIES HISTORY: Fifth regular season meeting. Panthers lead series, 3-1. The only time the Browns beat the Panthers was when they won in Cleveland, 24-23, four years ago.


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