CLEVELAND — All you need to know are two comments from the 49ers after a dismal loss to a head-banging Johnny Manziel and the lowly Cleveland Browns.
“It just felt like we didn’t bother to show up and play,” said left tackle Joe Staley.
“Maybe we just came out a little flat,” linebacker Ahmad Brooks said. “It’s not an excuse. Maybe we took them for granted. Them having the record they had coming into today, maybe we did take them a little light. We got the win last week and maybe we got a little big-headed and thought things would happen. We won last week because everybody played hard.”
Doesn’t speak well for the future of head coach Jim Tomsula, does it?
In a forgettable, dysfunctional season, the 49ers couldn’t have been flatter Sunday. Quarterback Blaine Gabbert was sacked nine times, the lifeless Niners failed to build on any momentum from last week’s road win and were rocked 24-10 by the lowly Browns, who ended a seven-game losing streak behind a solid performance by Manziel.
The 49ers (4-9) out-Browned the Browns. Their defense gave up 230 yards rushing to the Browns (3-10), who came in averaging an NFL-low 73.9 yards per game but opened massive holes in the 49ers’ front. Isaiah Crowell ran for 145 yards, getting 104 on a pair of runs and scoring two TDs.
After winning in Chicago last week, the 49ers seemed to think they could stroll into Cleveland and roll the Browns, who had lost 15 of their previous 17.
But their preparation problems were symbolized by Brooks, who was flagged for unsportsmanlike conduct and had an exchange with Manziel, who passed for 270 yards and a touchdown in his return after being benched two games for off-field behavior.
Even when they had a chance to make a big play, the 49ers bungled it. Linebacker Corey Lemonier could have sacked Manziel in the end zone for a safety, but he grabbed the QB’s facemask, giving the Browns a fresh set of downs.
Gabbert’s fifth start didn’t go very well. He was under constant pressure and took more than his share of hits as the Browns recorded the most sacks by any team in the league this season.
“I’m still standing here and breathing, so that’s a good thing,” Gabbert said. “It starts with me in the front. I have to do a better job, plain and simple.”
Gabbert finished 18 of 28 for 194 yards and threw a 6-yard TD pass to wide receiver Jerome Simpson with 1:42 left. Other than that, the 49ers were flat and flattened. At halftime, they had two first downs and were being outgained 255-48 in total yardage.
With the loss, the 49ers fell to 1-6 on the road. The lone bright spot was Phil Dawson’s return to the stadium he called home for 14 seasons. The 40-year-old kicked a 44-yard field goal and received a warm ovation from Browns fans after a video salute was shown in the first quarter.
Dawson wasn’t expecting to see highlights of his time with the Browns flashed on the giant scoreboards. And as the moments were replayed, Dawson was overcome with memories of a place he’ll always cherish.
“I’m trying not to break down on the sideline and zero in on kicking and paying attention to the wind,” he said. “I know what it means to me. When I’m an old man and my memory’s starting to fade, I just hope the good Lord allows me to always hold on to this one because it’s about as good as it gets.”
Crowell’s 1-yard run into the end zone gave the Browns a 7-0 lead in the first quarter. Crowell’s 50-yard run — the longest by a Cleveland back all season — set up the early touchdown, which came after Travis Coons had his 42-yard field-goal attempt blocked by 49ers defensive tackle Quinton Dial.
Upset for throwing an interception late in the first half, Manziel vented by bashing a tablet on his head several times before recovering to throw a touchdown pass in the second half. “I probably shouldn’t have overreacted the way I did, but it’s the NFL and when those chances are there, you’ve got to make the most of them,” he said.
Coach Mike Pettine didn’t see the eruption and joked that Manziel “beat me to it then.”
In that sense, Johnny Football finally accepted some blame. Manziel was back on the field after being benched two games by Pettine for partying during Cleveland’s bye week after he had promised not to be a distraction. The 23-year-old was thankful to get a second chance and made the most of it while giving the Browns hope he may still blossom into a franchise QB.
At least one team seemed to have hope.