The smile was back on Brian Hoyer's face, but it didn't last long enough for his or the Browns' liking.
Hoyer, in relief of an injured Duke Johnson Jr., connected with Jordan Cameron on an 81-yard touchdown pass to give the Browns' their first lead of Sunday's game against the Carolina Panthers with 9:59 left in the fourth quarter. It was Hoyer's first touchdown pass in more than a month, a stretch that saw him struggle for multiple games, lose his job and watch his team continue to labor on offense during a three-game losing streak.
"That was probably the first time I smiled on the football field when I threw that touchdown to Jordan in the last month," Hoyer said. "That felt good and then you go out there and can't really get anything going again. That's disappointing."
The disappointment stemmed from how the Browns' 17-13 loss came to an end for an offense that was held to one or fewer touchdowns for the fourth straight game. Cleveland had just one more possession after Cameron's touchdown and it ended with more than 3 minutes to play. A promising drive that included back-to-back first downs fizzled out when Hoyer was leveled by Carolina's Kawann Short on second-and-14 from the Browns' 49-yard line. A slant to Josh Gordon on third down came up well short of the first down, and the Browns punted it away.
The Panthers never let Hoyer and the Browns get one more shot at redeeming another offensive performance that was "not nearly good enough to win in this league," coach Mike Pettine said.
One week after gaining 107 yards and notching five first downs, the Browns had 228 and eight, respectively. For the second straight game, Cleveland's offense was dominated in time of possession, 38:03-21:57.
"We made the one big play," Pettine said. "Other than that we never seemed to get into much of a rhythm."
Whatever rhythm Manziel was developing in a second career start that showed some signs of improvement from the previous week was short-circuited by a hamstring injury he suffered midway through the second quarter.
Though Manziel's last play was a designed run with less than 2 minutes to play, he said the injury occurred two series earlier in the quarter. On a third-down pass to Gordon that would ultimately be overturned on a booth review, Manziel slipped and tumbled despite little pressure from the Panthers' pass rushers. After taking a hard hit on the scramble, Manziel stood up and took a couple of steps before plopping back to the turf.
Manziel, who completed 3-of-8 passes for 32 yards, would have been the emergency backup if Hoyer got hurt but he would have been without his trademark mobility, Pettine said. Manziel's status is up in the air heading into the Browns' season finale at Baltimore.
"This was a learning process for me and regardless of what happens moving forward into this last game of the season, this has really been a great thing for me," said Manziel, who has started twice and appeared in relief for Hoyer in a late November loss at Buffalo. "A very positive thing for me to get in here with these guys and this week going through the walkthrough and going through everything. I was a lot sharper and a lot more on top of this stuff and I think these guys see me and see that I'm in the building really putting in a lot of work, and I want to be the guy. And that's what I want to do and that's what I want to be for this organization."
Hoyer -- who finished 7-of-13 for 134 yards and an interception that was ultimately nullified when Travis Benjamin recovered a fumble on the return -- said he didn't receive a single snap with the first-team offense during the Browns' preparations for the Panthers. It's been nothing new for the six-year veteran who backed up Tom Brady for three seasons in New England.
Hoyer called what he did throughout the week to prepare himself for Sunday's game "part of the job." He was uncertain how this week of practice would unfold, but he was clear with how he wanted the season to end.
"I don't know what will happen going forward but we still have a chance of going 8-8 and to go .500," Hoyer said. "I'm going to do whatever I can whether I'm playing, whether Johnny Manziel's playing, whatever it is. The guys in that locker room, we've all worked so hard. We have to go out and finish this strong and not just give up on it."