BEREA — Browns cornerback Joe Haden didn’t want to overstate the importance of winning one game. And yet, he couldn’t avoid doing so when talking about Cleveland’s road victory over Minnesota in Week 3.
“It’s too early to say it saved the season, but it damn sure helped,” Haden said Thursday. “If we wouldn’t have won, this would have been a whole different week, a whole different locker room right now. It was really, really big for us to help people get their hopes back up because it wasn’t looking good.
“Now, we’re in good spirits, and if we beat Cincinnati — a good division opponent — it could change big-time around here.”
Haden has the opportunity to back up those words Sunday when the Browns host the Bengals at FirstEnergy Stadium.
Cleveland is 1-2 after its 31-27 win over the Vikings, while Cincinnati is 2-1 and a heavy favorite to win the AFC North Division.
Both teams are allowing 21.3 points per game, but the Bengals’ offense is scoring 25 points a game compared to the Browns’ meager 15.7.
That’s where Haden enters the equation since he will be matched up with Cincinnati wide receiver A.J. Green, one of the rising stars in the league.
“A.J. can do everything that you want a receiver to do, and he’s the best receiver I’ve played against since I came into the league,” Cleveland’s first-round pick in the 2010 NFL Draft said. “He’s one of them dudes that is special and don’t come along too often. You can’t put too many people on his level.”
Haden added that he ranks Green as the second-best wideout in the league behind Detroit’s Calvin Johnson, who he will square off against in two weeks.
In their last meeting on Oct. 14, 2012, Green outplayed Haden, making seven catches for 135 yards and two touchdowns. “Mr. Cleveland” did have one interception and helped the Browns to a 34-24 win.
“We won, so I’ll say I got the best of him,” Haden said, laughing. “That was my first game back from (a four-game NFL) suspension and my legs were done, I was finished. He got that late touchdown, but it was like third-and-20. I’m ready to get back out there and get up on Cincinnati.”
Though Haden is still shooting for his first Pro Bowl selection, the 5-foot-11, 190-pounder has been considered Cleveland’s top defensive player for several seasons.
The 24-year-old chatterbox has taken his game to another level this fall, holding Dolphins receiver Mike Wallace and Vikings flanker Greg Jennings to four receptions over eight quarters. Haden also made a career-high 10 tackles against Minnesota and served as the Browns’ fourth captain for the game.
“One of my mantras is, it’s really just one man kicking another man’s you know what,” Cleveland defensive coordinator Ray Horton said. “That’s really what football comes down to. Mr. Green doesn’t drop many balls, I know that, but it’s always one man vs. another man.”
Haden, in turn, relishes being “The Man” in the Browns’ secondary.
With Buster Skrine and Chris Owens as the club’s next-best cornerbacks, that status isn’t going to change anytime soon, but Haden isn’t taking anything for granted.
“I’m just trying to make sure I’ve got my spot on lock,” he said. “You hear (rumors) all the time and they go everywhere, but you can’t control them.
“All I can do is be ready for a really good, intense matchup this week against A.J. It’s going to be a battle. Sometimes he might get his, but I’ve got to be able to get mine a lot more.”
Contact Brian Dulik at email@example.com.