As Haden gets ready for practice, he takes his helmet off a hook in his locker to reveal a laminated white piece of paper with a map of Hawaii printed in black. The print is there to remind him and the entire secondary for the Browns that they must work hard every day in practice to reach the ultimate individual goal for active players, an invitation to the Pro Bowl.
And Haden took a big step toward that goal last Sunday when he intercepted two Andy Dalton passes, the second of which he returned 29 yards for a touchdown, in the first quarter of their 41-20 loss to the Cincinnati Bengals.
“It’s in there, so I see it every, single day,” Haden said. “It’s just a little motivation. It’s a job, and sometimes, it’s hard to get up and go out there, but at the end of the day, this is my job. It’s what I do, and the Pro Bowl is something I’ve been looking forward to ever since I was young. It’s just a goal of mine.”
In addition to the Pro Bowl, Haden is motivated by team success.
Earlier this year, the Browns had a three-game winning streak over the Minnesota Vikings, Bengals and Buffalo Bills. Then, they broke a losing skid with a 24-18 victory over the Baltimore Ravens to send the team into the bye week on a positive note.
Haden and the Browns enter Sunday’s game against the Pittsburgh Steelers on a mission to erase last week’s loss to the Bengals.
“I would love for (the Pro Bowl) to happen, but I want us to win some games,” Haden said. “Right now, we’re just trying to beat the Steelers. I want our team, I want everybody to go. I want to just keep winning games. That is a goal, and I just want to come out every week and put my best foot forward and be the best corner.”
Through the first 10 games of the season, Haden has taken steps to be that “best corner.”
He has broken up 14 passes, and intercepted three others, including one on a deflected pass to help stop a second-quarter drive in the win over the Ravens on Nov. 3.
With 41 tackles and 37 solo stops, he is on pace to surpass his previous career totals of 65 and 54 from the 2011 season.
“He’s playing at a high level, had a great game,” Browns coach Rob Chudzinski said. “He’s been impressive in how he responds to all of the challenges that he’s had throughout the course of the season. He’s really stepped up as a leader. Our team plays and our defense plays well, particularly when he’s playing at that level.”
Defensive coordinator Ray Horton added, “Joe provided big plays for us. Joe’s probably played as he has most of the year. He played exceptional, and you’d have to really look with a fine-tooth comb to pick out things that he’s not doing well.”
Although personal and team success has given Haden motivation, they are not his only driving forces.
Prior to the 2012 season, it was announced that Haden failed a drug test in the offseason and was suspended for four games, a stretch in which the Browns did not win a single contest. He continues to work hard to atone for the suspension, and plans on playing his best football over the next six weeks.
“That’s what I’m working to do,” Haden said. “I’ve got this end of the season to just keep improving, keep getting better. I want it to end with a bang. So far, I’m not too disappointed.
“I feel like I’m playing pretty well. I have a lot of plays that I’ve studied and can do better, improve in a whole lot of areas. Catching the ball would be one of them to help me out a whole lot, but as far as technique and making sure I do my job, I think I’ve been doing a really good job this year.”
While Haden said his increased on-field production is because of motivation, others believe it is due to a new coordinator, as well as getting married in the offseason. They expressed that marriage has made Haden take a step back and reevaluate his approach to life.
“He’s always worked hard in practice, but now, I think it has a lot to do with Ray Horton,” linebacker D’Qwell Jackson said. “He challenges him and forces him to play technique-sound football. Being on that corner, that’s one of the toughest positions to play. With Ray’s experience with Patrick Peterson, he’s grooming Joe.
“It’s just a maturation of him being in the league, the suspension and him getting married. I told him once he got married, it’s going to help his career, and it has. He’s playing his best football now. He stays at home. He’s got a house and he’s a family guy. His family is always around. He’s got great parents, a great family. I’m happy for him. You get to see the maturation process of him being young in the league, and now, he’s taken the next step in getting married.”
Horton added, “You get married and you have another responsibility. That really ties into having a responsibility to your teammates. I think the home life really does settle players down. He’s been a pleasant surprise for me, and I do remember him as a rookie coming out. He embodies everything you want in a young corner. He’s athletic. He’s smart. He’s tough, and he’s a very good person on top of that.”