Johnny Manziel’s CFL starting debut was nothing short of disastrous.
The former Cleveland Browns first-round draft pick had a nightmarish performance in his first start for the Montreal Alouettes, throwing four first-half interceptions in a 50-11 loss to the Hamilton Tiger-Cats.
Manziel’s interception total was the highest in the CFL this season. He was removed from the game in the fourth quarter after going 11-for-20 passing for 104 yards and no touchdowns. He also ran the ball twice for 4 yards.
“I felt I just made some uncharacteristic plays today, and you know, this game is humbling,” Manziel said afterward. “This is a humbling experience. I’ve had this experience in the past before, and there’s two ways you either go about this moving forward. One, you can let this get you down and sulk … and harm you moving forward. The other way is to just take this on the chin like a man and never allow this taste to creep back in your mouth again and never let this happen again.”
It was a much-anticipated day for Manziel, who last made a professional start in 2015 with the Browns and spent six games as a backup in the CFL before Friday. Manziel, who signed with Hamilton earlier this season, was traded to Montreal on July 22. He had four practices with the Alouettes’ first team before Friday night’s game, and the quarterback’s rust showed.
“Would it have been nice to be here for two or three weeks and then get your first start? Sure,” Manziel said. “But I didn’t lack any confidence coming into this game. I didn’t feel unprepared. … Today went the way it went. It went just about as bad as it could possibly go. Only up from here.”
His first interception came on Montreal’s second offensive play, a ball thrown into coverage in the middle of the field. Manziel’s second came after he scrambled away from pressure and tried to flip the ball to running back Tyrell Sutton, but the ball went off Sutton’s hands and into a defender’s.
The third pick was on a bootleg in which Manziel overthrew his intended receiver, and the fourth came under pressure, when Manziel released the ball just as he was getting hit, causing it to fall well short of his intended target.
“I think I just made some uncharacteristic throws,” Manziel said. “I didn’t see myself out there being very accurate on every single throw. I let some things get away from me, and it’s unfortunate.
“I wanted this day to go a lot better. I had this envisioned in my head going a completely different way than it did.”
Manziel didn’t get much help, either. Though he was usually able to escape pressure, coach Mike Sherman noted at the half that the team needed to protect Manziel better. The defense was porous and the special teams even gave up points, when a punt was blocked and returned for a touchdown. The Tiger-Cats scored 31 points off of Montreal’s first-half turnovers, resulting in a 38-3 halftime lead.
There were moments where Manziel showed off some of the ability that captivated football fans when he rose to prominence in 2012 as the Heisman Trophy winner at Texas A&M. He showed his signature scrambling ability on numerous occasions, completing a handful of passes to the home crowd’s delight. But those moments were few and far between.
“It was just a bad day,” Manziel said. “Those days happen in football. [You] learn from them, because I don’t want to have this feeling again. It sucks. Nevertheless, I don’t think this defines me coming up here as a CFL player. I don’t think one game, good, bad, indifferent, or anything makes your career. If I would’ve been judged after one game at Texas A&M, I wouldn’t be where I am today.”
Despite the poor performance, Manziel was upbeat after the game and optimistic about the future.
“This game humbles you,” Manziel said. “These things happen. You either bounce back and come back with a vengeance or you sit here and let it kill you.”