CLEVELAND: Joe Haden’s finest game ended in a mad dash to the goal line. It was the only time all day the Cincinnati Bengals could beat him, and it came when rookie receiver A.J. Green had a lengthy head start.
Haden had five pass breakups in the Browns’ 27-17 loss to the Bengals on Sunday. He added three tackles and a sack and turned Green into a ghost until the fourth quarter, when a breakdown in communication freed him down the sideline for the winning touchdown.
Haden appeared to be beaten badly on the play, but the Browns weren’t even lined up when the Bengals snapped the ball. They were still trying to get the proper personnel on the field when the Bengals caught them and snapped the ball.
The Browns had no coverage on the play. Haden simply started running downfield and had to fight through some of his teammates just to get near Green.
“[Green] was already gone,” Haden said. “I’m just hoping the quarterback is hit or something. You can’t catch him when he’s 20 yards behind you.”
The costly breakdown marred an otherwise brilliant performance for Haden.
“It wasn’t even like they caught the ball on us,” he said. “They just caught us off-guard. It wasn’t like we blew a coverage. It was just a miscommunication.”
Haden wants to emerge as a lockdown corner in his second year in the league. He’s off to a great start and it came on the right day. Former Browns cornerbacks Hanford Dixon and Frank Minnifield served as honorary captains Sunday. Haden might already be the Browns’ best cornerback since Dixon’s Dawg days of the 1980s.
He batted down passes in the end zone Sunday and defended third-down throws to force punts. Both Bengals quarterbacks, Andy Dalton and Bruce Gradkowski, seemed to target him, but neither had much success.
“I don’t know why they were doing it,” Haden said. “It wasn’t working.”
Green’s only catch was the touchdown, which should be blamed on confusion more than Haden.
The two have a long history dating to their Southeast Conference days, when Haden was at Florida and Green played for Georgia.
“He’s a great corner,” Green said. “He’s more patient and more confident now.”
Haden had 18 breakups last year as a rookie, when the Browns’ defense allowed 26 passing touchdowns (tied for eighth-most in the league). He has made it clear he wants to emerge as an elite cornerback this year. Defensive backs coach Jerome Henderson told him to relax and try to dominate the game.
“I had a pretty good understanding of what their offense wanted to do against us,” Haden said. “That’s what I’m trying to do this year, come out and be a lockdown corner on the left side.”
The combination of Haden and veteran Sheldon Brown makes the secondary the strength of the defense. The Bengals started a rookie in Dalton and replaced him with the veteran Gradkowski, but totaled 173 passing yards. That includes Gradkowski’s 41-yard freebie touchdown pass to Green.
Brown called Haden’s performance “excellent.”
“I saw some outstanding things over there on the other side of the field,” Brown said. “It’s fun to watch him.”
The Browns draw the Indianapolis Colts and former All-Pro receiver Reggie Wayne next week. The Colts were hammered by the Houston Texans on Sunday as they began life without Peyton Manning, but Wayne and Austin Collie remain dangerous threats. Asked what a game like this could do for Haden’s confidence, Brown never hesitated.
“Nothing,” he said. “Any given Sunday, you can get your butt kicked.”