For damn near the entirety of his first seven seasons playing in the National Football League, there is one thing that Pittsburgh Steelers cornerback Joe Haden never really had to worry about: the standings. He was drafted by the Cleveland Browns, one of the true bottom-feeders of the NFL, a team that won just won game the year before they cut him loose in August of 2017.
They of course went 0-16 thereafter. While they are perhaps slowly turning things around starting this year, though, they know that the playoffs are not on the horizon for 2018. Pittsburgh? They are looking forward to securing another postseason bye this time around, perhaps even with homefield advantage if things break in their favor over the course of the next six weeks.
“I’m not going to lie to you, since I got here I like looking at the standings, just being in the mix, like Coach Tomlin says, as the road gets narrow”, he told the team’s website recently. “Keeping it in perspective, but just looking at the picture after your game, seeing what everybody else does, seeing how everything else falls, I like looking at it”.
Last season, the Steelers won eight games in a row. That is more than the Browns ever won in a single season while Haden was with them. Their high water mark was in 2014 when they posted a 7-9 record. In fact, they were actually 7-4 until they lost their final five games.
That was probably the first and only time that Haden ever allowed himself to give much thought to the postseason until he was informed by the Brown some 15 months ago that they would be releasing him. Just hours later, he would choose to stay within the division and went on to experience his first postseason game.
Now, he’s taking a rooting interest in other team’s games as it relates to their standings, saying that “for sure” he was pulling for the Los Angeles Rams to defeat the Kansas City Chiefs. With the Rams’ victory, Kansas City is now even with the Steelers in the loss column. They only need the Chiefs to lose one of their final five games in order to claim control over their playoff destiny all the way up to homefield advantage.
Cleveland’s decision to release Haden was in some ways an opportunity for a second life in football for the veteran. He has really helped solidify the Steelers’ defense over the course of the past season and a half and has become something of leader in the locker room for a relatively young secondary.
In turn, he has finally gotten to experience what it’s like to actually play for a competitive team, and that is clearly and opportunity that he is not taking for granted.