For a little more than two quarters Sunday, the Browns had the secondary they envisioned at the start of the season.
On consecutive defensive plays that came on the back and front end, respectively, of two Arizona scoring drives, the Browns defensive backs were without more than one of their starters for an extended stretch of their fifth straight game.
Cornerback Joe Haden, who missed the past two games with a concussion, took a foot to the head at the end of Michael Floyd's 60-yard touchdown catch with 11:46 to play in the third quarter and was later diagnosed with a concussion. Safety Donte Whitner, who has been the Iron Man of the Browns defense this season, suffered a concussion at the end of Jaron Brown's 39-yard catch on the ensuing possession.
Cleveland finished the game with special teams ace Johnson Bademosi in Haden's spot and rookie Ibraheim Campbell at safety. Jordan Poyer, who would have typically replaced Whitner, was inactive with a shoulder injury.
Arizona quarterback Carson Palmer threw for 374 yards, four touchdowns and an interception in the Browns' 34-20 loss. It's the most Cleveland's surrendered through the air this season.
"When you play a team like this – this is really any week in the NFL – you have to have all hands on deck so obviously those guys are who they are for a reason," Browns quarterback Josh McCown said. "They are playmakers and all those things. When those guys go out, it does hurt you. We have to have the 'next man up' mentality and keep rolling."
The status of both Whitner and Haden is uncertain heading into a short week, as the Browns prepare to face Cincinnati on Thursday night. Both will be placed in the league's concussion protocol.
Safety Tashaun Gipson, who returned from a three-game absence Sunday after injuring his ankle against the Chargers, called the loss of Whitner and Haden a "huge blow" but stressed the Browns had no other choice but to adapt and press forward.
"You've got two guys who are tops at their position," Gipson said. "The saying in this league is 'Next man up.' We can't harp about it. We've got a super short week and the guys who are replacing them have big shoes to fill."
It's nothing new for a group that dealt with injuries throughout the preseason and saw important nickel back K'Waun Williams miss two games in September with a concussion. Gipson went down in a Week 4 loss to San Diego in which Haden was inactive because of a finger injury. One week later, Haden went down in the fourth quarter with a concussion. Haden and Gipson both missed Weeks 6 and 7, and Poyer suffered his shoulder injury near the end of Cleveland's loss last week at St. Louis.
"It's a revolving door with injuries in the secondary," Gipson said. "It's unfortunate because we've got the guys and we've got the talent."