Progress doesn't always show up in the victory column.
That certainly was the case Sunday afternoon when the Browns played a very, very good football game, yet still came up on the short end of a 23-20 score against the soon-to-be-crowned AFC North champion Cincinnati Bengals.
The 10-3 Bengals need either one victory of their own or one Pittsburgh loss in the final three weeks to dethrone the Steelers as the division kingpin. The Browns, now 4-9, are guaranteed their seventh losing year in their past eight seasons.
But quite frankly, if you watched Sunday's game without any knowledge of the records of the two teams, you really would not have known which was the better team on paper.
In fact, if you didn't know the history of the two quarterbacks, it would have been difficult to tell who was the first-round draft choice and who was a third-rounder.
Aside from two terrible throws in the second half, one of which was intercepted by the Bengals and the other one of which should have been, Charlie Frye was every bit as good as Cincinnati's Carson Palmer, who is one of the leading candidates for the NFL's MVP Award.
Frye finished hitting 16-of-24 for 138 yards and one touchdown. He also rambled around the right side for a touchdown on the Browns' first drive.
You've got to love this kid. He makes a habit out of rolling to his right and finding his receivers downfield. He never seems to get flustered when he's being chased by 300-pound defenders and, while at this stage of his career he is still making some bad decisions, you have to expect it.
It's all a part of the learning process for the University of Akron product who almost certainly will get his third straight start next Sunday in Oakland against the Raiders.
If Frye's still making these mistakes in the final week of the season against the Baltimore Ravens, it'll be a sign that maybe he isn't the answer. But I have a feeling that he is a very quick learner and that we'll see progress in this area over the next three weeks.
From his first start to his second, we saw improvement in several areas. His poise and moxie are obvious. He looks to have the intangibles necessary to be a winning quarterback in the NFL.
For example, Frye did a much better job this week of avoiding the rush, which wasn't nearly as fierce as what the Jacksonville Jaguars showed in the second half the previous week.
Offensive coordinator Maurice Carthon deserves credit for doing a better job of incorporating play-action into the game plan, which undoubtedly helped slow down the pass rush.
While head coach Romeo Crennel once again withheld heaping a great deal of praise upon his rookie quarterback, as well he should. When you don't win, you don't pass out game balls. Or in this case, ringing endorsements.
But at least Crennel did say, "I thought he did a pretty nice job maintaining his composure and getting out of trouble."
Frye took little solace in the fact the Bengals needed all 60 minutes before clinching the victory, which came on a game-winning field goal as time expired.
His main concern came in the fact his teammates laid it all on the line throughout the game and yet came up short. "We executed the way we wanted to most of the time, but if we had been able to score a touchdown on that last drive, maybe things would have turned out different."
No doubt, had the Browns put up seven points rather than the just the game-tying field goal in the final minutes, it would put more pressure on the Bengals. But in reality, the game should have ended when Frye threw the ball directly into a defender's hands near the goal line a couple of plays prior to the field goal.
The one aspect of the game that was a concern for Crennel was the fact the Bengals ran the ball extremely well during certain stretches of the game. That has been a problem all year and one that will have to be high on the list of Crennel's priorities come this off-season.
Watching Rudy Johnson run for 169 yards on 30 carries (5.6 avg.) was extremely frustrating because there were times it looked like the holes were big enough for me to run (or at least waddle) through.
You have to wonder where the safeties were on the plays when Johnson was able to get free in the Browns' defensive backfield. Maybe that will be the direction the Browns take in the draft.
Also frustrating were the two defensive interference calls against Leigh Bodden on the Bengals' game-winning drive. At least one of the two was very questionable and, had the call not against the Browns, the Bengals' drive might very well have fizzled, likely forcing overtime.
But, again, when your defense holds a high-powered team like the Bengals to just 23 points, you really can't be all that disappointed.
And when you play on an even basis with a team that has a chance to go at least to the AFC Championship Game, you have to think you are going in the right direction.
Of course, you also have to remember that good teams sometimes play down to the level of the competition. And that might have been the case Sunday afternoon.
But for the moment, let us say that the Browns played up to the level of the competition and that come next Sunday they will able to taste the fruits of victory against a very mediocre Oakland Raiders team.