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Backup QBs struggle in Eagles-Browns preseason tie

Mitchell Leff / Getty Images Sport / Getty

PHILADELPHIA (AP) — Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Jalen Hurts and Cleveland Browns QB Deshaun Watson watched in street clothes on the sidelines as their potential backups struggled in preseason game marred by injuries.

Marcus Mariota of Philadelphia passed for 85 yards and Dorian Thompson-Robinson of Cleveland threw for 164 as the Eagles and Browns played to an 18-18 tie on Thursday night.

Mariota completed 9 of 17 passes with an interception and was sacked three times in the first half for the defending NFC champion Eagles. Signed to a one-year deal in the offseason to back up Hurts, Mariota was high and off target on several throws while playing behind Philadelphia’s backup offensive linemen and reserve receivers. Most of his completions were short passes that went for longer yards on runs after the catch.

“I know he didn't play the way he wanted to play tonight, not up to his standard," Eagles coach Nick Sirianni said. “About us finding what works for him.”

Philadelphia signed the former Heisman winner and 2015 No. 2 overall pick this offseason because, like Hurts, he can be a run and pass threat. The 29-year-old veteran has rushed for 2,012 yards and 17 touchdowns in his career, but also has 54 interceptions in 87 career games.

Eagles fans booed Mariota when his pass late in the first quarter intended for tight end Grant Calcaterra went high and was picked off by Browns safety Ronnie Hickman. Mariota’s half ended, fittingly, with a sack.

“I'm learning as I go, good, bad or indifferent," Mariota said. “I'll take it on the chin and just learn.”

Hurts was just a spectator. The Eagles are taking no chances this preseason with the 2022 MVP runner-up who signed a five-year deal with $179.3 million guaranteed in the offseason.

Sirianni normally wouldn’t put Hurts in harm’s way during the preseason anyway and might have concerns about any absence in the regular season after Thursday’s game. Hurts was sidelined for two games last season during Philadelphia’s run to the Super Bowl, getting injured on a running play, and the Eagles certainly want a quality backup just in case their franchise QB goes down.

In two preseason games, Mariota is 16 for 28 for 143 yards with an interception and four sacks.

Rookie sixth-round pick Tanner McKee went 10 for 18 for 147 yards with a touchdown after halftime, following an impressive performance in which he threw for 148 yards against Baltimore in his preseason debut on Aug. 12.

Eagles wide receiver Tyrie Cleveland and rookie defensive tackle Moro Ojomo were carted off the field on a backboard with neck injuries. Both had movement in all extremities. Cleveland landed hard on his head while trying to make a catch in the third quarter, and Ojomo collided with a teammate while attempting to make a tackle in the fourth quarter.

“Your heart goes out to them,” Mariota said. “When these situations get like that, it is scary.”

There were several other injuries to players on both teams that required carts, visits to the medical tent and early departures to the locker room.

The game was played mostly between backups and players who likely won’t be on the roster when the regular season opens. In addition to Hurts, Watson watched out of uniform, along with many first-teamers from both teams.

Cleveland split the quarterback reps between backup contenders Thompson-Robinson and Kelle Mond. Joshua Dobbs, the frontrunner as the No. 2 to Watson, did not play.

Thompson-Robinson was 13 for 25 in the first half, and Mond was 12 for 24 for 126 yards and a TD after halftime.

“I thought they both played really well,” Browns coach Kevin Stefanski said. “We need to score points better, finish drives.”

Watson said during a halftime television interview that he would like to play in Cleveland's final preseason game on Aug. 26 at Kansas City. In his only preseason action, he completed all three of his passing attempts and rushed for 20 yards on three carries in a 17-15 loss to Washington on Aug. 12.

“I'll let you guys know next week,” Stefanski said. “He's not supposed to spill the beans.”

A rookie fifth-round pick out of UCLA who had been impressive in the preseason entering Thursday, Thompson-Robinson had ups and downs in his outing. He completed 5 of 7 passes for 71 yards on Cleveland’s first drive that ended with running back John Kelly Jr.’s fumble near Philadelphia’s goal line. Thompson-Robinson also fumbled, was sacked once and committed a 15-yard penalty for an illegal block to negate a 12-yard Browns run. He also connected on a beautiful, 27-yard pass down the right sideline to Austin Watkins Jr.

Mond’s play in the second half was against Philadelphia’s deep reserves.

Stefanski surely hopes he won’t need a backup quarterback.

Cleveland has high hopes this season for Watson, the anchor of the offense for a team looking to recover from a disappointing 7-10 record last year in Stefanski’s third at the helm. In 2020, Stefanski led Cleveland to its first playoff win since 1999, but the Browns have gone 15-19 since. Watson started in just six games last season, going 3-3, due to an 11-game suspension following accusations of sexual assault and harassment by more than two dozen women.


Browns K Cade York missed a pair of field-goal attempts late in the fourth quarter that likely would've given the Browns a victory, continuing his preseason struggles. He pushed a 47-yard attempt and then pulled a 41-yard try following a Philadelphia illegal formation penalty that gave him a second chance. The second-year pro previously missed tries of 46 and 49 yards in the preseason after going 24 for 32 in 2022. Earlier Thursday, he made kicks of 43 and 37 yards in the first half and 27 yards in the second half.


Thursday’s game was the third meeting in four days between the teams, who practiced against each other at the Eagles’ training facility on Monday and Tuesday. Following Tuesday’s practice, Cleveland All-Pro guard Joel Bitonio said Eagles defenders took “cheap shots” at Watson.


Eagles second-year LB Nakobe Dean stripped Kelly near the goal line to stop the Browns’ first drive. Dean is slated to be Philadelphia’s first-stringer in place of departed T.J. Edwards, one of seven starters who left the Eagles during free agency. Edwards led Philadelphia with 159 tackles last season. Dean’s strip came two plays after he was flagged for unnecessary roughness on a hit on Thompson-Robinson following a 3-yard run.


Philadelphia backup G Tyler Steen committed false start penalties on consecutive plays in the second quarter of a highly penalized first half. The Eagles had six penalties for 59 yards, and Cleveland was flagged six times for 22 yards. The teams finished by combining for 19 penalties.


Browns undrafted rookie free-agent LB Mohamoud Diabate had a stellar first half in his quest to make the club. He burst through the middle of the line to tackle running back Kenneth Gainwell for a two-yard loss and safety that gave the Browns an early 2-0 lead and later stripped running back Trey Sermon after a 14-yard pass.


Eagles rookie hard-hitting S Sydney Brown came from a distance with a hard shot on Kelly after a 6-yard gain in the first quarter. A third-round pick out of Illinois, Brown has been impressive in the preseason and made several strong tackles in Philadelphia’s preseason loss at Baltimore on Aug. 12.


Browns: RT Jack Conklin (concussion protocol) was injured in Monday’s practice. … CB Mike Ford Jr. (shoulder) and S Hickman (concussion evaluation) were hurt in the first half and didn’t return. CB Lorenzo Burns (shoulder) was injured on a kickoff late in the first half. … All-Pro defensive end Myles Garrett also watched from the sideline in street clothes. He suffered a minor foot injury on Monday but returned on Tuesday for individual drills.

Eagles: Haason Reddick (thumb) reportedly will have surgery after being injured in Monday’s practice, but is expected to return for the season opener on Sept. 10. … Rookie LB Nolan Smith (shoulder) and CB Zech McPhearson (ankle) were injured in the first half and didn’t return. C Josh Andrews (ankle) also was injured.


Browns: Wrap up the preseason at Kansas City on Aug. 26.

Eagles: Host Colts in the preseason finale on Aug. 24.

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