LANDOVER, Md. -- There was a winner in Monday night's Cleveland Browns and Washington Redskins game. But at times, it really didn't feel that way.
A fourth quarter interception from veteran safety Jim Leonhard was returned to the house and propelled the Browns. But the 21 combined penalties and sloppy play from both teams paint a more vivid picture of what transpired in front of a national television audience.
Regardless of the outcome, the Browns leave FedExField feeling energized with the timely plays they were able to make on defense. Head coach Mike Pettine has said time and time again that turnovers are normally the most important statistic at the end of a game.
Early in the first quarter linebacker Craig Robertson recovered a fumble from Redskins running back Alfred Morris. It was a heads up play from the linebacker to dive immediately to the ground. Robertson finished with six tackles, a team-high for Cleveland in the first half.
On the very next Redskins series, quarterback Robert Griffin III and his receivers were marching down the field on the Browns' defense. But on the 11th play of the drive, Griffin's third down pass was intercepted by Joe Haden and returned 37-yards up the field.
The most telling, though, was the Browns' goal line stand that spilled into the early second quarter. The Redskins handed the football off to Morris four straight times from inside the five-yard line, and all four times the Browns' defense denied the running back of the end zone. Robertson made the final tackle as the Cleveland players sprinted enthusiastically towards the sidelines.
"We played like Browns on that one," said defensive lineman Phil Taylor after the game.
For good measure, Tashaun Gipson picked off a Kirk Cousins pass late in the second quarter and returned it inside the red zone. Billy Cundiff would convert a 29-yard field goal four plays later.
The Redskins posted a gaudy 241 first half yards, but only had seven points to show for it.
Washington dominated the time of possession in the first half (18:37), cutting into the Browns' quarterback competition evaluation. There was not much to gloat about, though, from either Brian Hoyer, Johnny Manziel or the entire offense.
"It's a work in progress but we have some time to work it out," said head coach Mike Pettine.
Hoyer finished the night going 2-for-6, for 16 yards. Washington's pass rush was effective from the opening whistle; a sack on Hoyer from outside linebacker Ryan Kerrigan. The lone Browns field goal was converted by Billy Cundiff after a three-and-out from Hoyer and the first-team offense. Hoyer knows the Browns must get better, and quickly.
"It probably couldn't get any worse," said Hoyer. "It's disappointing. It's embarrassing. We started off poorly and really never changed after that.
"I have to make better throws," continued Hoyer. "If you want to look at positives, you look at our defense. They were amazing, they did a great job. As an offense, we have to pick it up. You see how good our defense is, you just know if we get things going how good this team can be. We just have to improve."
Manziel was able to lead the longest drive against the Redskins first-string defense – 11 plays, 60 yards – but it ended in a third-and-11 incompletion to wide receiver Josh Gordon and subsequent Spencer Lanning punt. Early in the fourth quarter Manziel would add an eight-yard touchdown pass to running back Dion Lewis. The rookie's final stat line: 7-for-16, 65 yards, 1 TD.
"Personally, me grading my performance today, I'm pretty hard on myself, I don't think I did a very good job," said Manziel. "I think there's a lot of room to improve. There are some things I wish I could have had back.
"I'm a young guy, and the more reps I get, the more practices I get, the more game situations I get better," said Manziel.
It's worth noting that several dropped passes affected the flow of the offense and the statistics from both of the Browns' quarterbacks. It might help the Browns offense once a starter is named, but players aren't concerning themselves about that.
"It's one of those things that's out of our control. Us as players, we have so much individually to work on. Whatever they decide, we'll run with it."
Ben Tate was the lone saving grace on offense, rushing for 51 yards on 10 carries. Tate effectively found holes and churned out much of his yardage after contact. After two preseason games, Tate has been the Browns most valuable player on offense, by far.