EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. – In a battle of two similarly built teams, it was the New York Jets that came up the victors in a 31-10 season-opening win Sunday against the Cleveland Browns.
Replacing Josh McCown who left with a concussion in the first quarter, quarterback Johnny Manziel gave Cleveland's offense an immediate jolt that shook the Jets and football fans across the country. But the initial good vibes from Manziel would be wiped out throughout the course of the game.
On his first drive of the 2015 season, Manziel launched the first touchdown pass of his career on a 54-yard rocket down the left sideline to Travis Benjamin. The play, which appeared to be an audible called at the line by the second-year pro, toasted veteran New York cornerback Antonio Cromartie early in the second quarter and set social media ablaze.
One fourth-quarter fumble from the 22-year-old landed in the hands of Darrelle Revis and turned into a 3-yard Chris Ivory touchdown. Another fumble was forced and recovered by Trevor Riley. The Browns committed five total turnovers on the afternoon.
There was a sequence in the third quarter that told the story of the game – the Jets' prowess in pass defense and the Browns' lapses.
A third-down pass to Brian Hartline from Manziel was fired off target and intercepted by Jets cornerback Marcus Williams and returned to the Browns 28-yard line. What looked like a pesky goal-line stand from the Browns defense turned into a leaping touchdown snag from Jets receiver Brandon Marshall over cornerback Joe Haden. The score gave New York a 21-10 lead.
Cleveland's secondary was unable to slow down Fitzpatrick, and it ultimately undid the Browns on Sunday. Fitzpatrick tossed two touchdown passes, had 179 passing yards, limited mistakes and kept the chains moving for the Jets. It was a Week 1 performance Cleveland had envisioned getting from its veteran starter.
On Cleveland's opening drive, McCown and the Browns slowly sliced through the Jets defense, marching 17 plays and 90 yards down the field. Cleveland used rookie Cameron Erving as a sixth offensive linemen on several unbalanced formations to throw New York for a loop. McCown converted four straight third-down conversions to begin the game. The Browns game plan was working.
But on third-down from the Jets 14-yard line, McCown took off from the pocket on a mad dash to the end zone and was seesawed in midair by Jets safety Calvin Pryor. He fumbled the ball, which resulted in a touchback. The 36-year-old was later diagnosed with a concussion and did not return.
The Jets responded swiftly to Manziel's 54-yard touchdown in the second quarter with a quirky drive of their own. Paced by a Fitzpatrick 37-yard strike to Chris Owusu, the Jets later caught perhaps the luckiest break of the game.
Fitzpatrick tried to squeeze a pass into tight zone coverage but it landed in the hands of Tashaun Gipson for an interception – until Marshall was able to strip the ball away from Cleveland's safety in a bizarre turn of events. Two plays later, Ivory bounced off Browns tacklers and into the end zone to tie the score.
Penalties were a downfall for the Browns on Sunday. Cleveland committed eight by half time for 70 yards and finished with 12. Early in the third quarter, the Browns missed a big opportunity when Jets center Nick Mangold snapped the ball 20 yards over Fitzpatrick's head
The Browns' running game struggled against the Jets defense. Late in the third quarter, McCown was still the team's leading rusher with just 23 yards, while Isaiah Crowell finished with 12 carries for 20 yards. Manziel ended up leading Cleveland with 35 yards rushing.
The Browns will watch film together tomorrow, have the day off Tuesday and return to the practice field Wednesday in preparation for the Tennessee Titans next Sunday at FirstEnergy Stadium.