This time, Johnny Manziel went down fighting.
The Montreal Alouettes quarterback had a big welt on his chin after a tough 24-17 loss to the Ottawa Redblacks in his second CFL start on Saturday night, but he said it was a sign he was back in the trenches after a disastrous debut.
“I want to be fighting with these guys. I want to be their quarterback and the quarterback of this team in this city. I’ve been sitting out for a long time and waiting for another opportunity,” Manziel said.
“It sucks when you don’t see results. It’s hard when you don’t see results. But at the end of the day when you have faith in the guy to the left or right of you, your brothers on this team, we’ll be OK.”
Manziel went 16-for-26 passing for 168 yards with no touchdowns and no interceptions, far better than last week when he had four passes picked off by the Hamilton Tiger-Cats.
But Manziel was outdueled at quarterback by Ottawa’s Trevor Harris, who threw for 487 yards as the East Division-leading Redblacks (5-3) rallied in the fourth quarter. William Powell’s 10-yard touchdown run with 15 seconds left broke the tie.
Manziel nearly ran for a 17-yard touchdown but fumbled and it was recovered by centre Kristian Matte for the major to give the Alouettes (1-7) a 16-11 lead in the third quarter.
The welt on his chin came from that forced fumble – when Manziel said he felt like he “ran into a brick wall.”
“That defence was fast, that defence was big and aggressive. They hit hard, they’re quick. But like I told these guys, you’re not going to take me out like that,” Manziel said.
Alouettes coach Mike Sherman said Manziel made a “drastic” improvement from his last game.
“I thought he came in and threw the ball well, made some really good decisions,” said Sherman. “I thought he did a good job and he’d just be better and better.”
With a smile, Manziel was quick to admit “anything” was better than his last outing.
He preached the team isn’t focusing on wins and losses right now, but instead on the process.
“It sucks to lose the game, and I’m not sitting here saying I’m happy with the outcome of the game but as far as improvement we’re close,” he said. “We’re a lot closer than we were a week ago and if we continue to make those strides, we’ll be OK.”
Harris completed 44-of-54 passes in front of a crowd of 25,161. The 44 completions tied for the second most in CFL history, one behind the record set by Henry Burris with the Redblacks in 2015. He also eclipsed the 15,000-yard mark for his career.
“It’s a big win,” said Redblacks coach Rick Campbell, whose team is the only squad in the East with a winning record. “I never take winning for granted. It was good we were able to step up. It was one of those games that was going back-and-forth. I view us as a 5-3 team that has work to do.”
Despite his strong numbers, Harris made some mistakes.
A pass intended for Greg Ellingson was picked off by Montreal linebacker Chris Ackie and returned 37 yards for a touchdown to give the Alouettes an 8-2 lead in the second quarter.
Harris threw his first touchdown of the game in the third quarter, a 14-yard strike to R.J. Harris. It was his first receiving touchdown of the season and put Ottawa ahead 11-5 – its first lead of the game.
Redblacks rookie Lewis Ward broke Luca Congi’s CFL record for most consecutive field goals made by a first-year player after knocking in his 22nd straight.
The record-breaker, a 15-yard attempt, tied the game at 17-17 in the fourth quarter. He made a 33-yarder earlier in the quarter to cut Montreal’s lead to 17-14.
The lone point scored by either team in a turnover-filled first quarter came after Montreal’s Boris Bede booted a 57-yard punt into the Ottawa end zone for a single. The Alouettes were up 9-5 at the half.
The Redblacks head to Winnipeg to play the Blue Bombers (5-3) on Friday, while the Alouettes are in Edmonton to take on the Eskimos (5-3) next Saturday.