HAMILTON — It was a decent first showing for Johnny Football.
Johnny Manziel completed 9-of-12 passes in his first appearance with the Hamilton Tiger-Cats but it was the Toronto Argonauts who cruised to the easy 36-18 victory at Tim Hortons Field in the exhibition opener for both teams.
Manziel, 25, certainly didn’t look out of place but faced a Toronto defence minus most of its starters and Hamilton was very conservative in its play-calling. The six-foot, 210-pound Texan, who signed with the Ticats two weeks ago, directed five drives (22 plays) and was especially effective throwing on the run.
But Hamilton, which played most of its starters, surrendered seven first-half turnovers (two interceptions, three fumbles, two on downs).
The former Heisman Trophy winner entered the game late in the first half and played much of the third quarter. Manziel was solid on his final possession, engineering a 12-play, 62-yard drive that took 7:27 off the clock although he was flagged for a 22-yard intentional grounding penalty.
Manziel threw for 80 yards and ran twice for 10 yards. But Hamilton’s biggest play was Frankie Williams’ 73-yard punt return TD to end the third, cutting Toronto’s lead to 33-13.
Manziel saw his first action since being released by the NFL’s Cleveland Browns on Mar. 11, 2016. The Browns took the ‘12 Heisman Trophy winner in the first round, No. 22 overall, in the 2014 NFL draft.
Manziel played in 14 games but was 2-6 in eight career starts. He completed 147-of-258 passes (57 per cent) with the Browns for 1,675 yards with seven TDs and seven interceptions while rushing 46 times for 259 yards (5.6 yards per carry) and one touchdown.
Manziel entered the game with 3:38 remaining in the opening half with Hamilton on its 19-yard line trailing 13-6. His first pass was a nine-yard completion to Jalen Saunders, then Manziel hit Felix Faubert-Lussier on consecutive strikes before being sacked by Jonathan Dowling on third and two, giving Toronto the ball at the Ticats 49-yard line.
McLeod Bethel-Thompson took advantage, hitting Brandon Burks on a 27-yard touchdown pass at 14:09 to put Toronto ahead 20-6.
On Manziel’s second possession, he was the victim of a bad snap that resulted in an incompletion. On second down, he threw a completion to Rashad Lawrence, but Toronto recovered his fumble, setting up Bethel-Thompson’s one-yard TD run at 14:49, giving Toronto a 26-6 advantage.
Manziel remained under centre on Hamilton’s next possession. After a Mercer Timmis run, Manziel ended the half with an eight-yard scamper. He was 4-of-5 passing for 35 yards.
Manziel opened the second half with an incompletion on his first attempt before connecting with Harvey Binford on a six-yard completion.
Bethel-Thompson had a solid first half, completing 9-of-11 passes for 122 yards and two TDs while running for another to stake Toronto to a 26-6 advantage.
Chandler Worthy and James Franklin had Toronto’s other touchdowns. Ronnie Pfeffer kicked three converts while Swayze Waters booted three field goals.
Brandon Banks scored Hamilton’s other touchdown while Lirim Hajrullahu booted a field goal and convert. The other points came on a safety.
Incumbent Jeremiah Masoli started for Hamilton and finished 8-of-13 passing for 115 yards with a TD and two interceptions. Masoli’s nine-yard touchdown pass to Banks at 6:42 of the second cut Toronto’s lead to 13-6.
Toronto surged to a 13-0 lead on Waters field goals of 42 and 33 yards — the latter set up by Trumaine Johnson’s 50-yard interception return — and Bethel-Thompson’s three-yard TD strike to Worthy.