Johnny Manziel called it a humbling experience.
The much-hyped CFL debut of the 2012 Heisman Trophy winner was a disaster as everything went downhill after his first pass was picked off by Larry Dean and his Montreal Alouettes were trounced 50-11 by the Hamilton Tiger-Cats on Friday night.
It wasn’t all Manziel’s fault, but he was intercepted four times in the first half and put up only 104 yards on 11 completions before he was replaced by backup Vernon Adams in the fourth quarter.
He wasn’t buying the notion spread widely on social media by past and present CFL players that he was thrown into game action too quickly, after joining the Alouettes only two weeks ago.
“Everybody has an opinion,” the 25-year-old said. “Would it have been nice to be here for three weeks and then get the start, Sure.
“But I didn’t lack any confidence coming into the game. I didn’t feel unprepared. But who knows, I got the start and it went just about as bad as it could possibly go.”
Manziel was up against the team that dealt him to Montreal in a five-player trade on July 22. In Hamilton, he backed up Jeremiah Masoli but never saw game action, so anticipation soared when Alouettes coach Mike Sherman announced this week that he would start.
But the debut for the gifted Manziel, an NFL first-round draft pick whose two seasons with the Cleveland Browns were marred by off-field troubles, was a bust for the 18,576 at Percival Molson Stadium.
“I didn’t feel uncomfortable,” he said. “I just feel I might have been a bit too amped up.
“As the game started, I made a really uncharacteristic throw on the first drive and it really set us back. I did a bad job of setting the tone on that first drive.
“This is a humbling experience. I’ve had this experience in the past and there are two ways you go about this moving forward. One, you can let it get you down and sulk and harm you moving forward. The other way is to take this on the chin like a man and never let this taste creep back in your mouth again and never let it happen again. This will motivate me.”
While Manziel struggled, Masoli threw touchdown passes to Brandon Banks and Jalen Saunders and ran one in himself, while Alex Green ran in a pair and Sean Thomas Erlington scored on a blocked punt for Hamilton (3-4).
The Ticats ended a three-game losing streak and retained second place in the East Division. They also set a team record with 28 first-quarter points, passing their mark of 25 set twice previously.
Lirim Hajrullahu added three field goals.
“We’ve had a little slump, especially offensively, so it was good to come out and execute,” said Masoli, who felt a little twinge for his former teammate Manziel, but not too much.
“I’m on the other team.
“I’m loving how our defence is executing. As the quarterback over here I’m happy for our defence. But beside that, personally, yeah you feel for him a bit. But that’s how it is. It’s pro football. He’ll get better just like everyone else.”
Masoli completed 17 passes for 300 yards – his sixth 300-yard game in seven outings. Saunders led the Ticats with seven catches for 150 yards.
Adams had a late touchdown and Boris Bede kicked a field goal for Montreal (1-6), which has lost four in a row.
Manziel, playing his first real game since December 2015, showed flashes of talent, scrambling away from a persistent pass rush and throwing on the run. A 31-yard completion to Eugene Lewis in the second quarter was particularly impressive, but he was picked off by Mike Daly two plays later to kill a promising drive.
“The mistakes he made, he’ll learn from,” said Sherman, who plans to stick with Manziel as his starter. “He didn’t have a lot of opportunities running around because we didn’t protect very well. He made his share of mistakes, but no, absolutely, positively no regrets.”
Hamilton’s eight-play opening drive ended with a 17-yard TD pass to Banks at 2:50. After a Larry Dean pick, Green ran in from the one at 5:54. Less than three minutes later, Curtis Newton blocked a Bede punt and Thomas Erlington ran it in.
The first of two Jumal Rolle interceptions setup a 21-yard TD pass to Saunders and it was 28-0 after only 11:09 of play.
Manziel made his first completion with a 10-yard shovel pass to Ernest Jackson and got Montreal in range for a 29-yard Bede field goal to open the second quarter.
But another Rolle pick set the Ticats on an eight-play drive and another Green 1-yard TD. Hajrullahu added a 42-yard boot for a 38-3 halftime lead and put up three more points from 48 yards early in the second half.
Masoli ran in from the six 1:32 into the fourth quarter. Adams scored with 2:39 left from the one after a pass interference call.
Manziel was the second Heisman Trophy quarterback to start for Montreal. Troy Smith won his debut in 2013.