DETROIT -- It was only a snippet of what 2014 Cleveland Browns football will be about, but it was an encouraging bite of pie.
On Saturday night at Ford Field, the Detroit Lions defeated the Browns 13-12. Kellen Moore threw a 21-yard touchdown pass late in the fourth quarter to put the Lions ahead for good.
Quarterback Brian Hoyer and the first-string offense methodically moved the football down the field in two of his three drives, resulting in Billy Cundiff field goals of 43 and 26 yards. Hoyer finished the night going 6-for-14, with 92 yards passing. The veteran took advantage of Detroit defensive lapses on some passes, including a notable 28-yard flare to fullback MarQueis Gray on the opening drive.
Quietly, Ben Tate was also a big part of the Browns scoring drives. His six carries for 25 yards won't wow you in the box score. But Tate ran tough, found holes in the zone scheme and looked much shiftier in an actual game setting as opposed to practice.
The offense moved the football. There was an issue, though, that could've led to more points: Third-downs were not friendly to the Browns' first unit. The team was 0-for-4. There were some overthrows and some dropped passes – one from Miles Austin that might've led to a touchdown.
"We learned some lessons in this game," said head coach Mike Pettine. "You can't just kick field goals when you get in the red zone, you've got to score touchdowns. When you get a chance to finish a game, defensively, you want to be in that situation and you've got to execute.:
But this is what the Browns and Hoyer desperately needed: live game action. Reviewing this film will be the greatest asset for the offense moving forward.
"It was good to be back out on the field with my teammates, to go out there and move the ball," said Hoyer. "We kind of killed ourselves with some things. There are definitely a couple of reads I would like to take back and a few throws, but for the most part it's good to get out there and play against someone else."
Rookie quarterback Johnny Manziel took the field to a smattering of camera flashes and even some boos from the Detroit faithful. He took only four snaps in the first half, a three-and-out and a QB kneel.
But once the third quarter began, the rookie from Texas A&M reminded NFL fans why he was worthy of being selected in the first round. Cleveland looked exciting. Manziel's legs added a dimension to the offense, occasionally giving the Lions fits. A 16-yard scramble from Manziel in the middle of the third quarter are the kinds of plays that give the 21-year-old a chance to start the regular season.
"Luckily for me there's three more games to get out there and learn what to do in different situations against defenses," said Manziel after the game. "I'm still growing up as a quarterback. Week One, is obviously I guess you guys would say, it's close. But at the same time there's a lot of things [I'm working on] that will paint a better picture for us."
It shouldn't be buried this far in the story, because it was the story: Cleveland's defense dominated.
Head coach Mike Pettine and defensive coordinator Jim O'Neil dialed up an array of exotic blitzes, flustering the Lions' offense. Donte Whitner leveled Theo Riddick on a pass over the middle, injuring the running back's abdominal. Barkevious Mingo posted a sack and lined up all over the field. Rotational lineman Armonty Bryant was a nightmare matchup for the Lions' interior offensive line. And the second and third units picked up the momentum and carried it all throughout the second half.
Whitner and Karlos Dansby, both team captains, were encouraged.
"I feel like we ran to the football and we didn't make mental errors," said Whitner. "We tackled pretty well. We've just got off the field on third down."
"We dialed up some good play calls," said Dansby. "I wanted to go in for a kill-shot on one hit, but it's the preseason. That time will come."
The Browns players have Sunday off and will resume training camp practice Monday morning.