CLEVELAND: When Browns quarterback Brian Hoyer and the rest of the starting offense produced a 13-play, 85-yard touchdown drive Thursday night in the preseason finale, they didn’t exactly accomplish the feat against the vaunted Chicago Bears defense of 1985.
No, these defenders weren’t even starters for the 2014 Bears. They were second- and third-string players. Some of them will be out of jobs by 4 p.m. Saturday when all NFL teams are required to trim their rosters from 75 players to 53.
But the Browns aren’t complaining. As much as their first-string offense struggled in the first three exhibition games, they would have welcomed a touchdown against the Little Giants. Especially as they adjust to a hard-knock life without All-Pro wide receiver Josh Gordon, whose season-long drug suspension was upheld by the NFL on Wednesday.
Taking care of business is all that mattered, regardless of who lined up on defense, and the starting offense got the job done. Hoyer completed 6-of-8 passes for 69 yards, and running back Ben Tate capped the march by rushing for a 1-yard touchdown with 5:01 left in the first quarter of the Browns’ 33-13 win over the Bears at FirstEnergy Stadium.
“It was great to get out there and just move right down the field,” Hoyer said during a halftime interview. “We said tonight wasn’t about them. It was about us. Regardless of who’s playing for them — they were nameless and faceless opponents — we just wanted to go out and make everything about us. It’s good to go down and have an 85-yard drive and just execute and get in the end zone.
“It just shows us what we’re capable of, and that’s what’s been the frustrating part this preseason. To go out there and just do it against a different team is important. It’s a good feeling heading out of the preseason.”
Unfortunately for Hoyer and Co., the Pittsburgh Steelers won’t use all of their backups on defense when they host the Browns for the Sept. 7 regular-season opener.
Nevertheless, Hoyer completed passes of 8 and 13 yards to tight end Jordan Cameron and receiver Andrew Hawkins, respectively, to convert on the first two third downs the Browns faced. He also connected with undrafted rookie receiver Taylor Gabriel for gains of 17 and 21 yards.
“[Hoyer] was sharp, made some good throws, made the right reads,” Browns coach Mike Pettine said. “It was good to see our guys make some plays down the field.”
On third-and-10 from the Bears’ 12-yard line, wide receiver Travis Benjamin caught a pass from Hoyer but was tackled 1 yard shy of the first-down marker. On fourth-and-1 at the 3, Hoyer ran a play-action fake and threw the ball to undrafted rookie fullback Ray Agnew.
The official game statistics credited Agnew with a 1-yard gain, and it looked as if he picked up the first down. But a measurement never occurred because Bears safety M.D. Jennings drew a roughing-the-passer penalty when he hit Hoyer during the play. The penalty gave the Browns first-and-goal at the 1, and Tate carried the ball across the goal line.
“It was just good to get a rhythm,” Tate said. “We needed that. We’ve been making so many mistakes the last couple games. This game was basically us going down and not making any mistakes. That’s what it’s supposed to look like.”
Hoyer, who was named the starter over rookie Johnny Manziel last week, finished the preseason 24-of-44 passing (54.5 percent) for 261 yards and a touchdown with an interception. He took three sacks, and his passer rating was 70.4. In 15 preseason series led by Hoyer, the first-string offense scored two touchdowns and three field goals and gained 356 yards.
After the Browns scored a touchdown during their first possession, Hoyer took the rest of Thursday night off. Manziel entered the game with 46 seconds left in the first quarter and played one series in the second half before veteran Rex Grossman relieved him with 8:29 left in the third quarter.
In five series, Manziel completed 6-of-17 passes for 83 yards and a touchdown. He took a sack and finished with a passer rating of 71.4. He also rushed four times for 55 yards.
Manziel followed a three-and-out in the second quarter with a five-play, 80-yard touchdown drive. He scrambled on third-and-10 from the Bears’ 28 until he found receiver Nate Burleson wide open for a 27-yard gain. On the next play, Manziel hit tight end Jim Dray in the back of the end zone for a 1-yard scoring strike as the Browns went ahead 14-13 with 4:54 left in the second quarter and never trailed again.
“Falls into the category of Johnny being Johnny,” Pettine said of Manziel’s performance. “A couple of those plays were no, no, no, yes — but that’s what he does. That, to me, is what he brings to the table. He just needs to get more comfortable in his reads, take the easy throws that are there. He’s certainly shown why he has the reputation that he does.”
The Browns’ starting defense surrendered a field goal on the game’s first possession while facing a mix of second- and third-string players, including No. 3 quarterback David Fales. A sack by outside linebacker Barkevious Mingo thwarted the Bears’ next drive, and the starting defense took the rest of the night off after Robbie Gould missed a 52-yard field goal two plays later.
Browns rookie cornerback Justin Gilbert, the eighth overall pick in this year’s draft, continued to struggle. Bears receiver Santonio Holmes spun away from him near the 22 and ran into the end zone for a 32-yard touchdown early in the second quarter.
Nate Ulrich can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Read the Browns blog at www.ohio.com/browns. Follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/NateUlrichABJ and on Facebook www.facebook.com/abj.sports.