At its best, Browns football has always been a spectacle. An event. Must-see TV. Must-gee whiz-bang. For most of the first five years of Browns football A.A. (after Art), it has been a spectacle, all right. A spectacle in the same vein as the Titanic A.I. (after iceberg). It was enough to Dwayne the Rudd out of you. Helmet-tossing-triggered losses, how comes, Holcombs, blown leads, blown calls, 2-yard completions on third-and-3, overthrows, underthrows, fumbles, bumbles, mumbles, missed tackles, wished tackles and Big Money, The Wonder Defensive Tackle. Four years of it. Browns fans wondered if Browns management was taking this as seriously as they were. But then, just when you thought it was time to pack away once and for all your old Todd Philcox jersey, the Browns play a game like Sunday. At the risk of waxing oxymoronic, this was an invigorating loss. Sure, it goes into the books as a 34-31 defeat. But look deeper. The Browns, with Frisman Jackson at wide receiver, took the undefeated Philadelphia Eagles, with Terrell Owens wide right, into overtime, and it took a 50-yard field goal to beat them. On a day when the only thing that mattered - the score - went wrong, there was a ton of stuff that went right. So much stuff that Browns quarterback Jeff Garcia, who was speaking of himself, might have been speaking of the organization as a whole when he said, "I really believe I took a step in the right direction today. I'm starting to get it." So, too, it appears - finally - are the Browns. "Nobody likes losing. It's sickening," said Coach Butch Davis. "But you'd have to be an absolute fool not to think our offense made progress today." Give His Butchness that. Sunday's game is the first tangible evidence that the Browns are getting better. That there is talent on that roster, and - keep your fingers crossed! - coaches wearing headsets who know how to use them. "There are no moral victories in the NFL, but no one in this locker room should be hanging their heads," said Browns tackle Ryan Tucker. "We are pleased with the way we played. They just scored last." And first. Working behind an offensive line that resembles a condominium complex - average size per lineman: 6-foot-5, 325 pounds - quarterback Donovan McNabb needed just two plays to take the Eagles 75 yards to the end zone to start the game. A 65-yard pass completion and a 10-yarder did it. Just 43 seconds into the game, the Browns were not only trailing, 7-0, but the Eagles were on pace to score 581 points. Whoa Nellie, right? Wrong. The Browns responded by driving 66 yards on the ensuing possession for a touchdown. The joust was on. "They are definitely among the elite teams today, and we stood toe-to-toe and traded blows with them," said Garcia. The Eagles got in the last punch, and it was a gut-buster - the 50-yard game-winning field goal by David Akers. But there was a lot to like about this Browns loss. Start with the offense gaining nearly 400 yards against a quality opponent. The Browns also outrushed the Eagles, and averaged nearly 5 yards per carry. Heck, at the 2-minute warning in the fourth quarter, the Browns - get this - still had all three of their timeouts. They didn't have to burn any earlier in the half - as has been their habit - because of chaos in the huddle or on the sideline. In a clutch 11-play, 54-yard touchdown drive that tied the game with 36 seconds left to play in regulation, Garcia and Dennis Northcutt recognized a blitz and burned it - combing on a critical 11-yard completion that brought the ball to the Eagles' 7, which was a prelude to Garcia's improvised 4-yard scramble for the game-tying touchdown. "That touchdown was totally Jeff," said Tucker. "He played his butt off. He took us up and down the field all day." Whether Garcia can take the Browns to the playoffs remains to be seen. But on a day when they were beaten at home for the first time this season - they had been 3-0 at home - the Browns gave themselves and their fans legitimate reason for optimism. These weren't the Bengals. These weren't the Redskins. These were the Eagles. One of three undefeated teams at the start of the day. It seemed like a potential mismatch on paper. But the Browns took the Eagles' best shot and dragged them kicking and screaming into overtime. "It's frustrating to lose the way we did," said Browns tight end Aaron Shea. "But they've got a good defense, and we threw some points on the board." The Browns may not be all the way back yet, but, based on Sunday's game, the spectacle itself is. And that's a start.