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Backups Mariota, Thompson-Robinson struggle as starters rest in Eagles-Browns 18-18 preseason tie

Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Marcus Mariota (8) throws the ball during the first half of an NFL preseason football game against the Cleveland Browns on Thursday, Aug. 17, 2023, in Philadelphia. (AP Photo/Derik Hamilton)

Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Marcus Mariota (8) throws the ball during the first half of an NFL preseason football game against the Cleveland Browns on Thursday, Aug. 17, 2023, in Philadelphia. (AP Photo/Derik Hamilton)

BY AARON BRACY contributing

PHILADELPHIA (AP) — Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Jalen Hurts and Cleveland Browns counterpart 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 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.”

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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.

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.

Cleveland split the quarterback reps between backup contenders Thompson-Robinson and Kellen 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.

TALKING ABOUT PRACTICE

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.

TRAINER’S ROOM

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.

Eagles: 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.

UP NEXT

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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by Taboola