The out was there, but Johnny Manziel refused to take it.
Just a few minutes earlier, Browns coach Mike Pettine said Manziel "looked like a rookie, played like a rookie" in his NFL starting debut, which ended Sunday with Cleveland on the wrong end of a 30-0 rout at the hands of the Cincinnati Bengals. Asked simply to assess his performance, Manziel called it "tough" multiple times but stressed it wasn't because of his age or status.
"I'm not using the rookie excuse -- it's not me," Manziel said. "Yeah, I'm a rookie, but that's out the window. I needed to play better."
The Browns needed to be better in pretty much every facet of the game Sunday. And while Manziel wasn't entirely to blame -- as his teammates and Pettine repeatedly said -- he certainly didn't make things any easier on himself in a debut that included a few flashes of the Manziel magic he showed at Texas A&M but far too many rookie moments.
"I felt like I would come out and play better and that didn't happen," said Manziel, who finished 10-of-18 for 80 yards, two interceptions and 13 rushing yards. "I'm disappointed and these guys are too. For me, it's a fresh start and we can move on from here to try and build something to carry us into next year."
Perhaps no start by any quarterback in the NFL came with as much hype as Manziel's did Sunday. National media outlets from coast to coast swarmed on Cleveland early in the week when a quarterback change appeared imminent and remained in the city through Sunday to capture the atmosphere of one of the highest-anticipated December games at FirstEnergy Stadium in years.
The 67,431 in attendance had to wait a bit, as Cincinnati drained more than 7 minutes off the clock on its opening drive and took an early lead. The buzz was muffled, and Manziel and the Browns offense did nothing to bring it back.
The Browns went three-and-out with Manziel handing the ball off twice and coming up a yard short on a third-down scramble up the middle. The play set an ominous tone in multiple ways. The new formation seemingly catered for Manziel's strengths -- four bunched wide receivers to the right and Josh Gordon lined up to the left -- didn't fool the Bengals, and Manziel's ability to pick up tough yards with his feet simply wasn't as effective against an NFL defense as it was throughout his college career.
"It just didn't need to happen – the number of attempts trying to do that," Pettine said. "I said that all week that if you get into that mode that you try and do that all the time…and I know that's what he does and that's what you fall back on very quickly, but there were plays that were there where (you) make a decision, make a read, throw it and we're on to the next play."
There just weren't many opportunities for redemption, as the Browns picked up five first downs -- two of which were the result of Cincinnati penalties -- and finished with 107 yards on 38 plays. Thirty-two came on Manziel's best pass of the game, a 32-yarder to Gordon on third-and-long late in the third quarter.
The Bengals intercepted Manziel three times with two ultimately counting because of an offsides penalty that negated a Rey Maualuga pick in the second quarter. Manziel was most disappointed in the one that put a disappointing halt to the Browns' most promising drive of the game. The penalty-aided, 10-play, 51-yard possession late in the second quarter ended when Manziel heaved a pass to Taylor Gabriel in the end zone that was ultimately grabbed in a crowd by veteran defensive back Adam Jones.
His first interception came earlier in the quarter, when Dre Kirkpatrick stepped in front of a sideline pass intended for Andrew Hawkins.
"I saw what I wanted to see and didn't have enough confidence in myself to let it fly," Manziel said. "I saw what I wanted and I ripped that all week through practice and when it came down to it, just a split-second hesitation and in the NFL, I learned hard today, they can undercut that and they can get to that ball.
"I saw the field fine today but when I came down to it, I just needed to throw the ball and let it rip, and I didn't do a very good job of that."
Pettine said he never considered using veteran Brian Hoyer, who started the first 13 games this season, and he quelled any potential drama around the position in his post-game press conference. Manziel will start the final two games in what Pettine said should be a "decent sample" to gauge what exactly the Browns have in Manziel as they look to 2015.
"There is no substitute for playing, though," Pettine said. "You can only simulate that so much in practice or in the preseason. You've got to get out there and play. The bad thing is the result. The worse thing would be not to learn from it. We have to come out and push through it, and hopefully he'll be better next week."