Joe Haden has never experienced a winning season with the Browns, but he has played in plenty of spirit-crushing losses.
None of them, however, have affected him quite like Cleveland’s 32-28 defeat at the hands of the Jacksonville Jaguars on Sunday afternoon.
“We (expletive) can’t stand losing,” an emotional Haden said, fighting back tears. “I put my (expletive) heart out there every (expletive) time. We’re out there every week busting our (expletive). This (expletive) hurts — and we’re tired of it.”
Though Haden is having the best season of his four-year career, he didn’t make his best play with 40 seconds left in the fourth quarter, allowing Jaguars wide receiver Cecil Shorts III to score the game-winning touchdown.
Shorts had been locked down by the Browns’ ace cornerback until that point, but Jacksonville quarterback Chad Henne had a hunch that it was time to go back to him.
“We felt Joe Haden was off — he’s a great corner — but he bit on the first route,” Henne said. “It was a double-move and Cecil came down with a great catch in the end zone.”
After Haden made a split-second misstep, Shorts sprinted past him down the left sideline, catching the 20-yard strike in stride as he approached the back of the end zone.
It marked the first time that Haden has been beaten for a game-losing score in the final minute — and delivered the dagger on another lost football season in Cleveland.
The latter fact appeared to hurt him much more than the former.
“They scored on me at the end of the game,” Haden said softly. “It’s my fault. We were doing a good job. Our defense is solid.
“Shorts just made a really good play; ran a really, really good route. Their quarterback threw it to the back and he got it. I don’t know what more to say.”
Earlier in the contest, Haden added to his highlight reel by picking off Henne on a deep throw intended for Shorts. It was his fourth interception in the last four weeks and bolstered his already strong Pro Bowl candidacy.
Unfortunately for Haden, that hot streak has occurred during his team’s collapse.
The Browns are 1-6 since Oct. 13, making them 4-8 on the year — and putting them on track for a sixth consecutive double-digit loss season.
Since tabbing Haden with its first-round pick in the 2010 NFL Draft, Cleveland has an 18-42 record and hasn’t come close to sniffing a playoff berth.
“You come to us with the same questions every week and we give you the same answers,” he said with a wavering voice. “We tell you, ‘We’re going to get better next week,’ but until we do it, there ain’t nothing to talk about. Straight up.”
At that point, Haden politely ended his postgame interview and walked slowly out of the locker room, alone.
The modern NFL may be overrun by selfish, me-first players, but it’s clear — and refreshing — that Haden isn’t one of them. He grew up in Maryland and played college football at Florida, but nothing would mean more to him than being part of a championship team in Cleveland.
“That’s my brother, man, and I definitely am riding behind him,” safety Tashaun Gipson said. “For Joe to be down on himself after he played a great game like he did, it’s a terrible feeling. He holds himself to a high standard and he means so much to this defense.
“I’m right with him and I know the field. That catch at the end, I know he’d make that play 10 times out of 10 if it happened again. You just watch and see.”
Contact Brian Dulik at firstname.lastname@example.org.