Instant Analysis: Gut Check in Atlanta

The Browns and Charlie Frye headed down to Atlanta to take on the Falcons as well as the team's critics. How did the team and it's young quarterback do? Frank Derry offer his take on the improvement he saw as the Browns held on against their NFC South opponent...

Charlie Frye had hoped to answer his critics Sunday afternoon in the only manner that matters … with his performance on the field.

This was gut-check time for the University of Akron product. For the entire week leading up to the Falcons game, fans and media alike were questioning whether Frye was capable of being the guy who could take this team to the Promised Land.

Frye's effort a week ago against the San Diego Chargers, a game in which the Browns had to settle for field goals on their first six trips to the red zone and Frye was guilty of two more turnovers, forced head coach Romeo Crennel to come to his defense on several occasions.

Early in the week, Crennel said, "I think we are in a situation where we probably need to give him more time to finally make a valid assessment."

Later on in the week, Crennel said, "I'm still confident in Charlie and his abilities. I think he will be a good quarterback for us and make us a winning team. I'm confident in that."

Crennel also predicted the criticism Frye was receiving would not have a negative affect. "He's handling it very well and he's a tough-minded individual. He's going to get better and help this team win," Crennel predicted.

Sunday afternoon, Frye went out and corrected a lot of the mistakes he had made against the Chargers.

Against the Falcons, he didn't commit any costly turnovers. He didn't appear to stare down his primary receiver. He didn't look like he held the ball too long. He didn't try to force the ball into his play-makers. He didn't scramble around in the offensive backfield like a chicken with its head cut off. For the most part, he played under control and took advantage of what the Falcons gave him.

And, most importantly, he didn't walk off the field at the end of the game on the short end of the scoreboard. The Browns won their third game of the season, 17-13.

Frye didn't win this game for the Browns. More importantly, he didn't lose it. Credit this one to yet another outstanding performance by the Browns' defense, which has been nothing short of brilliant much of the year.

Frye's contribution was exactly what it needs to be at this point in his career. He got the team in the end zone both times it reached the red zone and he didn't throw any critical interceptions.

The only time Charlie looked like the Frye of old was on the final play of the first half when he scrambled around in the backfield, then had the ball knocked out of his hands. The Falcons recovered, but the clock ran out as they played an impressive game of hot potato.

If the entire Chargers game didn't do it, maybe that one blunder against the Falcons finally convinced Frye that he isn't Superman, nor does he have to try to be. In the third quarter, when he got rushed, he headed up field rather than scrambling from sideline to sideline. At times, Frye looked like the second coming of Michael Vick.

It looked like Frye figured that if he was going to take a pounding, he'd do so while gaining positive yardage while at the same time having the ball tucked safely away.

With the way the defense and special teams are playing right now, the offense need only take care of the football and be able to score touchdowns when they reach the red zone. Coming into the game, the Browns' red zone offense ranked a woeful 28th in the NFL.

Asked why he remains confident in Frye, Crennel said, "Because of those things I've been saying all along. He has good leadership ability, which you need. He's got toughness and his teammates rally around him. You need that too. He is adequate with his skills as a quarterback. All of those things can make him a winner."

Speaking of the defense, it did an outstanding job of containing super-scrambler Michael Vick, who was actually booed by his hometown fans despite the fact he has been playing some of the best football of his pro career. He had the Falcons at 5-3 coming into the game.

Vick's biggest problem appears to be the fact his receivers all have hands of stone. They came into the game with a reputation of dropping numerous passes and they added at least seven more drops to that total against the Browns.

Some people blame the drops on the fact Vick is a left-hander and that the ball comes in with a different spin than most receivers are used to.

That's the same excuse many used when Paul McDonald, also a southpaw, had numerous passes dropped during his years with the Browns.

Having never caught a pass in an NFL game, I really don't know if there's any truth to that reasoning, but I remember talking at length with Ozzie Newsome and he insisted it shouldn't make a difference.

When Vick's passes weren't being dropped, they were being intercepted or knocked down by Sean Jones, Brodney Pool and Ralph Brown.

Jones, who celebrated his return home to Georgia with his fifth interception of the season, has quickly become one of the NFL's premier thieves. He has a nose for the football unlike any Browns safety since Earl Little.

The Falcons, who came into the game with the NFL's ninth-ranked offense, didn't score their only touchdown until just 1:06 remained in the third quarter. And that was set up by a long punt return to the Browns' 13.

I don't know about you, but when Frye was sacked on the one foot line and not in the end zone for a safety, I was hoping the Falcons would win the challenge and be rewarded the safety.

In that situation, I'd much rather give them two points, which would have left the Browns with a 14-5 lead. Instead, on the very next play, Dave Zastudil was forced to punt from the back end of the end zone and the result was a 37 yard return by Allen Rossum to the Browns' 12. Two plays later, Vick hit Michael Jenkins for the Falcons' first touchdown, cutting the Browns' lead to 14-10.

But from that point on, the Browns' defense bent but didn't break. And Frye did his part as well, making sure not to give the Falcons any gift points.

It was a solid team victory, one which should have the Browns on an emotional high going into next Sunday's game against the Super Bowl Champion Pittsburgh Steelers.

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