CLEVELAND (AP) — From the start, he was Johnny Deepball.
Johnny Manziel threw a 60-yard touchdown pass to Travis Benjamin on Cleveland’s second play and connected with his wide receiver again for a clutch 50-yarder with 2:52 left, giving the Browns a 28-14 win over the Tennessee Titans on Sunday.
Benjamin also returned a punt 78 yards for a TD in the first half as the Browns (1-1) built a 21-0 lead and hung on for just their third home-opening win since 1999.
Starting in place of the injured Josh McCown, Manziel finished 8 of 15 for 172 yards. His last completion was vintage Johnny Football as Manziel spun to his left to avoid pressure and threw deep to Benjamin.
Manziel won his Heisman Trophy matchup with Marcus Mariota, who threw two TD passes in the second half for the Titans (1-1), but took a pounding in his second game. The No. 2 overall pick was sacked seven times.
Mariota finished 21 of 37 for 257 yards. With the Titans down 14 and needing two scores, Mariota, who recorded a perfect passer’s rating last week against Tampa Bay, drove Tennessee inside Cleveland’s 20 but was sacked and stripped by defensive end Armonty Bryant.
The Browns ran out the clock and erased the memory of a brutal opener last week against the Jets.
McCown was not cleared to practice Friday, giving Manziel his third career start and one he had been waiting for since last season ended. This was a chance for redemption for Manziel, who played poorly when he got on the field in 2014 and spent most of the winter in a rehab facility.
On his first pass, Manziel faked a hand-off, dropped back and hit a streaking Benjamin, who got behind cornerback Coty Sensabaugh. As Benjamin crossed the goal line, Manziel ran the length of the field, pumping his fist the whole way before celebrating with his teammate.
The quick TD energized Cleveland’s crowd and gave Manziel a boost of confidence.
The Browns went up 14-0 in the first on Isaiah Crowell’s 11-yard run.
Benjamin, who finished with 269 all-purpose yards, made it 21-0 with his electrifying return. He caught Brett Kern’s kick, found a seam and cut toward the left sideline. Benjamin picked up a few blocks, including Pierre Desir’s knockdown of Kern, who was face down as Benjamin hurdled over him and scored.
Cleveland’s offense couldn’t do anything after halftime and Mariota took advantage.
He connected on a 19-yard TD pass to Anthony Fasano in the third and threw a 13-yarder to rookie Dorial Green-Beckham with 6:42 left.
Manziel, though, drove the Browns 80 yards for their last TD, getting it on the kind of play that made him famous in college – and at least for now – Cleveland’s guy.