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Manziel to get first NFL start against Bengals

Rookie Johnny Manziel will start at quarterback for the Cleveland Browns on Sunday against the Cincinnati Bengals.

Manziel’s first NFL start will come in Cleveland’s final home game of the season against the Cincinnati Bengals. He’ll replace struggling Brian Hoyer, coach Mike Pettine announced Tuesday.

“We’ve made the decision to start Johnny this week against the Bengals. This decision is really not about Brian Hoyer or Johnny Manziel, it is about the Cleveland Browns,” Pettine said. “We are always going to make decisions that we feel are in the best interest of the team. Brian has done everything that has been asked of him and he has done so as a true professional.

“It’s never just any one position when a unit is not functioning at the level you’d like. We are trying to get the offense to perform at a higher level. Johnny has worked very hard to earn this opportunity and it will be very important for every member of the offense to elevate their play for us to obtain our desired result.”

Hoyer has struggled in his last four games, throwing one touchdown pass and eight interceptions. Last Sunday against the Indianapolis Colts, Hoyer was 13 of 31 for 140 yards and no touchdowns with two interceptions. Manziel did not play against the Colts.

Manziel, the 2012 Heisman Trophy winner selected in the first round of the 2014 NFL Draft, entered the Nov. 30 game against the Buffalo Bills to replace Hoyer and led the Browns to a touchdown. The rookie completed 3 of 4 passes for 54 yards on the drive. He is 5-of-8 passing for 63 yards and has 13 rushing yards this season.

“I’m very appreciative of the opportunity that Coach Pettine and the coaching staff have given me to be the starter on Sunday,” Manziel said. “I’ve tried to spend my entire season learning what it takes to become a pro and it’s been great to watch Brian because he knows what it takes.

“I’ve prepared every week to be ready to help the team however possible and my focus has been on improving every day. I’m very excited to get out on the field with my teammates on Sunday and to have the opportunity to make the Dawg Pound proud.”

After a 6-3 start, the Browns have dropped three of their last four games to fall to 7-6 and need a win over the Bengals (8-4-1) to remain in contention in the AFC North.

Bengals coach Marvin Lewis created some controversy on Monday night during his radio show when he called the 6-foot Manziel a midget.

On Tuesday, Lewis issued an apology.

“I’m aware that my comment on local radio last night was offensive to people of short stature and to their families and friends,” Lewis said in a statement. “It was thoughtless on my part to use the word I did, and not excusable, and I greatly regret it.

“I since have read about this issue on the Little People of America website. I understand it better, and as I have apologized to Johnny Manziel and the Cleveland Browns community, I offer the same to all others who I offended, and I pledge that I will learn from this. I hope that my mistake and the resultant publicity may serve at least to help others not make similar insensitive comments in the future.”

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