- The Washington Times - Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Johnny Manziel dressed quickly Monday night.

After his team’s 24-23 loss to the Washington Redskins, the rookie quarterback slouched in front of his locker, wearing a tan sports coat with wrinkles across the back. He scrolled through his phone and took sips from a bottle of water. Rob McBurnett, a member of the team’s public relations staff, pulled up a chair.

McBurnett spoke quietly to Manziel, who nodded without setting down his phone. The 2012 Heisman Trophy winner knew he had made an obscene gesture toward the Redskins‘ sideline in the third quarter. And he knew that ESPN’s television cameras had captured it. The evidence was circulating on the Internet as he spoke.

Manziel rose to his feet and followed McBurnett around the corner. “A lapse of judgment,” he told McBurnett as they walked. They winded through the locker room and out, then down the hall to a press conference room, where cornerback Joe Haden was addressing the media. Manziel leaned against the wall, one leg crossed in front of the other. He was up next.

A few minutes later, Haden exited the room and “Johnny Football” entered. The first question he faced was about his overall performance. “Some good and some bad,” he said. Then came the questions he had been prepared to answer.

Why did he give Washington’s bench the middle finger? Was he provoked? Did he kick himself as soon as he acted? And did he know exactly why what he did was negative?

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“I mean, I don’t think it was a positive,” Manziel said, cracking a smile.

The No. 22 overall pick in this spring’s draft completed 7 of 16 passes for 65 yards and one touchdown, a short pass to Dion Lewis up the middle in the fourth quarter. His accuracy was erratic and he was sacked three times. But the gesture he made between two plays was as telling as the plays themselves, especially with Cleveland’s starting quarterback job at stake.

“Yeah, that doesn’t sit well,” Browns coach Mike Pettine said. “I was informed right after the game and I’m disappointed. We talk about being poised, being focused. You have to be able to maintain your poise. It’s a big part of all football players, especially the quarterback. We have to keep our composure and that is something that we will obviously address.”

Haden said Manziel was being taunted by the Redskins‘ sideline all night. “Worst things you could ever imagine,” the Prince George’s County native said, declining to specify. “From everybody. Their players. Their fans.”

When asked if he was provoked, Manziel was blunt. “There’s always words exchanged on the football field,” he said.

The apparent tipping point occurred late in the third quarter after an incompletion to Jonathan Krause. “This ain’t college,” Brian Orakpo yelled, according to one Redskins player. Earlier in the game, Orakpo was seen making Manziel’s signature “money sign.” Manziel said he didn’t notice.

“I had words exchanged with me throughout the entirety of the game, every game, week after week,” he said. “I should have been smarter. It was a Monday Night Football game and the cameras were probably solidly on me, and I need to be smarter about that.”

Pettine had said he hoped to name a starting quarterback this week, before Cleveland’s third preseason game. But Brian Hoyer, who started Monday night, completed only two of his six passes. And Manziel, besides raising his middle finger, wasn’t particularly impressive, either.

In his first drive of the game, Manziel threw a pass behind Jordan Cameron for an incompletion and was then sacked by Ryan Kerrigan on the next play. Several other passes fell behind, above or otherwise out of reach of their intended targets.

Manziel said he was hesitant, much like he was during his first few games at Texas A&M.

“I think with my play in college, I set the bar very high for myself. So people are going to expect what I did in college consistently,” he said. “But, I mean, it’s a different league. It’s a different level. It’s a different team. It’s a completely different environment for me.”

The environment may have changed, but Manziel’s place in the spotlight has not. Since being selected by the Browns in April, he has been drafted by the San Diego Padres, sat courtside at the NBA Finals and partied in Las Vegas. Where other players avoid attention, he has shown a tendency to embrace it.

With that mentality, and the scrutiny it welcomes, there is a greater chance for missteps like Monday night’s gesture.

“There’s always a lot of hype being here with me, so I’m really used to it,” he said. “And I’ll take it in stride moving forward.”

With those words, Manziel stepped away from the microphone. Flanked by team staff members, he strolled toward the open door and down a tunnel to the bus, his forehead shining with sweat.



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