You probably could've guessed a game between Mike Pettine's Cleveland Browns and Rex Ryan's Buffalo Bills would wind up as a defensive slugfest.
The Browns were able to overcome a sluggish first half that included two Josh McCown interceptions to get into the end zone with a fourth-quarter touchdown pass, but the Bills had the final answer, winning, 11-10, at FirstEnergy Stadium on Thursday night.
Johnny Manziel engineered the only touchdown of the night for the Browns. The 11-play, 96-yard drive in the fourth quarter featured two gorgeous throws from Manziel. While evading pressure and rolling to his left, Manziel lobbed a 37-yard strike to undrafted wide receiver Darius Jennings. Two plays later, the second-year quarterback found undrafted wide receiver Shane Wynn in the back right corner of the end zone for a 21-yard touchdown.
Manziel finished the night 10-of-18 for 118 yards passing and a quarterback rating of 94.2
Buffalo drew within one when E.J. Manuel connected with Andre Davis on a 14-yard touchdown pass on fourth-and-14 with 1:31 to play and converted the two-point conversion to escape with the win.
At halftime, the score was knotted up at three apiece, but Buffalo was mostly in control for the first 30 minutes.
The night started in the first quarter when Tyrod Taylor knocked 9:36 off the clock on a systematic, 16-play march down the field. Browns linebacker Paul Kruger was able to stymie the drive with a third-down sack, which led to Buffalo kicker Dan Carpenter clanking the upright on the ensuing 46-yard field goal attempt.
Taylor, who's in a competition with Matt Cassel and E.J. Manuel, looked every bit the starter for the Bills, finishing 7-of-10 for 65 yards and led the Bills in rushing with 41 yards on four carries. Stopping third downs was a problem for Cleveland against the Bills.
"We executed some plays," linebacker Karlos Dansby said, "but we gave some plays up."
The Browns' main focus on offense through the first three quarters was to try to get Terrance West and the running game going, and the second-year running back showed some signs of life, rushing for 42 yards on 11 carries. Isaiah Crowell saw much less work, finishing with five carries for 14 yards.
"It felt good," West said. "The offensive line had some holes for us, and we took advantage."
West was able to pick up a key fourth-down conversion late in the first half on a 4-yard burst up the gut. The 15-play drive eventually stalled, but not before kicker Travis Coons knocked home a 41-yard field goal to tie the score at three.
Both of McCown's interceptions were picked off by Bills rookie cornerback Ronald Darby – the first off the hands of tight end Gary Barnidge, the second an overthrown deep pass down the field to wide receiver Andrew Hawkins.
Despite the two mistakes, McCown otherwise ran the offense efficiently, completing 7-of-10 passes for 57 yards while playing the entire first half.
The most encouraging sign from the Browns came in the third quarter on the defensive side of the ball. The Bills inserted Manuel behind center, and the quarterback was virtually running for his life on every dropback. Cleveland's third-round pick Xavier Cooper registered his second and third sack of the preseason and both Armonty Bryant and John Hughes were pushing Buffalo's offensive linemen off the point of attack.
The Browns were missing 19 players coming into the game and suffered two notable injuries during the contest. Barnidge and safety Jordan Poyer both were evaluated for concussions. Barnidge was cleared to return.
The Browns will have Friday off. Pettine will address the media on a conference call and Cleveland will return to the practice field Saturday morning.