Joe Haden certainly enjoys the recognition that comes with his second straight invitation to the Pro Bowl, but it was the love he felt during his toughest month of the season that mattered most.
The first few games of Haden's fifth season with the Browns weren't his best, and he was the first one to take accountability for it. After Haden surrendered a long pass to Baltimore's Steve Smith on a drive that would eventually end with a Ravens game-winning field goal, coach Mike Pettine implored Haden to be great while expressing confidence his star cornerback would rise to the challenge.
Haden, of course, responded the way his coach and teammates anticipated.
"Playing corner, you're out there on an island, especially with me, I'm out there by myself trying to hold down the No. 1 receiver," Haden said earlier this month. "The coaches know how hard my job is and as long as I get the love from them and the people in the locker room that really know what I'm doing and how hard my job really is, that's all that matters.
"During that beginning when I wasn't making plays that I felt like I could, they had my back and they knew that they've seen me do it before and this was going to come."
What followed was a dominant stretch against some of the game's best receivers.
On Nov. 6, Cincinnati's A.J. Green caught three passes for 23 yards. Ten days later, Haden weathered a number of targets to limit Houston's Andre Johnson to 68 yards and less than 10 yards per catch. Atlanta's Julio Jones, who has seven games of 100 yards or more this season, was held to 68 against the Browns. Buffalo's star rookie Sammy Watkins caught three balls for 11 yards with Haden on his hip.
Along the way, he intercepted a pass in three consecutive games, the last one coming when he stepped in front of a slant thrown to Watkins for one of his best plays of the season.
That particular performance prompted some lofty praise inside the Browns headquarters. Just a couple of months removed from Haden's rough patch, defensive coordinator Jim O'Neil called him the NFL's best cornerback, and it was hard to disagree.
"I feel like I'm doing what I need to do," Haden said. "I'm trying to become the best cornerback in the game and I work every day to do that. My leadership comes by action and making plays on the field and the way I play the game.
"I'm just glad coaches know and my teammates know that just the work I put in, how hard I work and how much it means to me to play well and help us win."