TAMPA --** The crack of the pads made Joe Haden feel like he was back in the game.
Now, as a leader of a retooled Browns defense, the Pro Bowl cornerback is ready for the next step in both his personal recovery and the recovery of a unit that wants to fix all that went wrong Friday against the Buccaneers in time for the Sept. 11 season opener at Philadelphia.
Haden took the field for the first time since early November and played multiple series in Friday's 30-13 loss to the Buccaneers. His presence was a welcome sight for an otherwise young Browns defensive backfield but it wasn't enough to slow down a Jameis Winston-led Tampa Bay passing attack that was the methodical backbone to a lopsided first half between the teams' respective first-team units.
"Being able to put my pads on somebody, that makes you feel like you're in the game, making tackles and doing stuff like that," Haden said. "So I definitely was into it, I just have to do a little bit more with my wind because that game, that fast tempo, I felt it a little bit."
On this night, Haden was a part of a Browns defense that struggled to slow down Winston and Tampa Bay's tall, athletic receiving duo of Mike Evans and Vincent Jackson. Winston racked up 259 passing yards in a first half that saw the Buccaneers rattle off 24 unanswered points to build a quick 27-3 advantage.
The Browns take on the Buccaneers in Tampa for the third preseason game.
Browns coach Hue Jackson liked the improvements Cleveland made against the run -- Tampa Bay rushed for just 46 yards on 14 carries in the first half -- but said the back seven members of the defense needed to be better than what they showed Friday.
"We'll put our heads down and work," Jackson said. "This is not an easy thing and I think we all know that."
Nothing's been easy for Haden since Week 4 of last season. That marked the first game he would miss in an injury-ridden season, and it didn't get any easier during the offseason. After he overcame multiple concussions, Haden underwent surgery in March on an ankle he injured during the previous season.
His path back to the field has been methodical and filled with incremental milestones. Friday marked the latest, the culmination of a busy week in which Haden recorded two interceptions in as many days during the team's joint practices with Tampa Bay.
Haden's stay on the field Friday ended far earlier than when he lines up against the Eagles in a couple of weeks. He hopes it will end with a far different result, too.
"I think we'll be able to fix it up. We've had big fixes before the first regular season game," Haden said. "We definitely have some film to watch and we've got a lot of adjustments we can make that will make us a whole lot better. It's not big things that mess us up, it's the small things."