CLEVELAND — Josh McCown scored on his first preseason possession with Cleveland.
Robert Griffin III and Washington’s starters still can’t find the end zone.
McCown threw a touchdown pass in his debut for Cleveland and backup Johnny Manziel scrambled for a TD as the Browns, busting out new uniforms for the first time, built an early lead before losing 20-17 to the Redskins on Thursday night in their exhibition opener.
Signed during the offseason to bring stability to Cleveland’s troublesome position and mentor Manziel, McCown connected with Travis Benjamin on a 2-yard TD in the first quarter. After scrambling from pressure, McCown was about to throw the ball away when he saw Benjamin waving and wide open.
“I thought, ‘Is he back there by his self?’” McCown said. “He looked lonely, so I threw him the football.”
Griffin III went 4 of 8 passing for 36 yards during two possessions with the starters. Griffin would have thrown a TD pass, but wide receiver Pierre Garcon dropped a long toss.
Kirk Cousins rallied the Redskins, who trailed 14-3 in the second quarter. Cousins ran for a TD and went 12 of 14 for 154 yards.
The win was costly for Washington, which lost starting tight end Niles Paul to a broken ankle and running back Silas Reed sustained a knee injury.
“I’m sick about it,” coach Jay Gruden said of Paul’s season-ending injury. “He means a lot to this team.”
McCown, who went just 1-10 as a starter last year with Tampa Bay, was sharp during his one series. The 36-year-old completed all five passes and displayed a veteran’s poise on his TD pass to Benjamin.
Washington’s first-team offense didn’t produce a touchdown in the preseason last year, a drought that foreshadowed Griffin’s struggles in his third season.
The Redskins have been pleased with Griffin’s improvement in training camp under new quarterbacks coach Matt Cavanaugh, and RG III made a couple of nice throws during his brief time on the field against the Browns.
Rolling from pressure, Griffin took a hit in the mid-section from linebacker Paul Kruger, but delivered a strike to Ryan Grant for a 22-yard gain.
“You’re going to get hit every now and then,” Griffin said. “I thought we did a good job moving the ball. Get in, get out and that’s all you can ask for.”
Manziel has shown maturity on and off the field following a disastrous rookie season, and the 2012 Heisman Trophy winner made a smart play when he tucked the ball away and darted 12 yards for his TD. But unlike a year ago, Manziel, who was limited earlier this week by a sore elbow, didn’t celebrate by flashing his signature “money” sign, a gesture he has promised never to do again.
“I did some good things,” he said. “Nothing special. Nothing terrible.”
Tight end troubles
Redskins: In addition to Paul’s injury, TE Je’Ron Hall sustained a thigh injury. Washington was already missing TE Logan Paulsen, recovering from a torn toe ligament.
Browns: WR Marlon Moore injured his ribs in the first half. Before getting hurt, Moore forced a fumble when he wrapped up Washington’s Andre Roberts and popped the ball loose.
On the sideline
Redskins: Starting WR DeSean Jackson sat out with a shoulder injury sustained during training camp. Outside LB Ryan Kerrigan was held out following arthroscopic knee surgery.
Browns: Pro Bowlers Joe Thomas and Joe Haden both sat out. Thomas, who has never missed a snap in his NFL career, hurt his right leg during practice earlier in the week. Haden has been slowed by a hamstring issue the past week.
Also, Terrelle Pryor, attempting to switch from quarterback to wide receiver, didn’t dress because of a lingering hamstring injury.
Redskins: RB Matt Jones ripped off a 23-yard run in the second quarter and finished with 38 yards on five carries. The third-round pick from Florida was checked for a concussion.
Browns: With Thomas out, first-round pick Cam Erving started at left tackle. Erving was called for a holding penalty that was declined.
Redskins: The secondary lost track of Benjamin on Cleveland’s first TD. As McCown bought time, Benjamin crossed the end zone without a defender picking him up.
Browns: CB Justin Gilbert, a major disappointment as a rookie, got beat by Garcon and was lucky the Redskins’ wide receiver couldn’t handle Griffin’s throw. Gilbert was beaten on other completions.
Redskins: Kai Forbath made field goals of 52 and 33 yards.
Browns: Carey Spear converted a 47-yarder in the third quarter. He’s batting Travis Coons for Cleveland’s starting job.
Pettine downplayed the Browns’ interest in running back Ray Rice, suspended and released by Baltimore last year following a domestic violence incident.
“It is premature to talk about that,” Pettine said. “We are comfortable with where our room is. I know a lot of people have connected the dots given his circumstances and ours, but it is too early to talk about it.”
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