BEREA — The home season ends Sunday with a visit from the Bears. Cornerback Joe Haden hopes it’s not the final home game at FirstEnergy Stadium for good friend and strong safety T.J. Ward, whose contract expires after the season.
“You’re trying to win games. I think the best possible way is to have him as our strong safety,” Haden said Wednesday. “If I had any say, which I don’t really think I do, I would definitely want T.J. to be here with me.
“I’d do anything in my power for sure to keep him here because that’s not only a really good player, one of the best players on the team, it’s my best friend on the team.”
Ward, who said he hasn’t thought about this possibly being his final home game, is second to linebacker D’Qwell Jackson with 106 tackles and has two interceptions and 1.5 sacks. He said a couple of weeks ago he hadn’t heard from the Browns about a contract extension but is open to staying.
“I like T.J. as the best strong safety in the league,” Haden said. “He does his job. He controls the defense. His run support is what he’s really good at, but his cover skills are nice. He has some of the best feet on the team.”
Ward gained a lot of notoriety for a hit Sunday that ended Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski’s season with a torn anterior cruciate ligament. But before the injury in the third quarter, Ward helped hold Gronkowski to two catches for 32 yards.
“I knew this was going to be one of my biggest challenges of the year,” Ward said. “The bigger the competition the more I think I rise to that level.”
He feels his coverage skills have been underappreciated.
“From the day I stepped on an NFL field if you look at my numbers, the times I have been targeted and passes defended I’ve been in the top five of safeties,” Ward said. “That kind of itches me the wrong way when I get that stigma of ‘I can’t cover, I’m only a box safety.’
“Numbers speak for themselves, film speaks for itself. When I’m out there guys aren’t catching the ball on me all over the field. All I can do is prove myself as a high-level safety in this league and I do that. I think I do that every week.”
Haden was Cleveland’s first-round draft choice in 2010 and Ward a second-rounder. Haden has another year left on his contract and expects to remain with the Browns, but wouldn’t say if talks regarding a contract extension have started.
“I’m going to be all right,” Haden said. “I’m going to be straight.”
QB SWITCH FOR BEARS
Bears quarterback Josh McCown was named NFC offensive player of the week Wednesday after going 27-for-36 for 348 yards, four touchdowns, no interceptions and a 141.9 rating Monday in a 45-28 win over Dallas. He also ran for a touchdown and ranks third in the NFL with a 109.8 rating.
He will likely be back on the bench against the Browns.
First-year Chicago coach Marc Trestman said he expects normal starter Jay Cutler to be back in the lineup. He missed the last four games with a high ankle sprain but returned to practice last week.
The Bears didn’t practice Wednesday after playing Monday night, but Cutler was scheduled to go through an extensive workout later in the day that would clear the way for him to start. Trestman said he’ll make a final decision today.
“Both McCown and Cutler are very good fits for their system,” Browns coach Rob Chudzinski said. “We’re going to be prepared for both, and we have to be prepared for both.”
Cutler has 13 touchdowns, eight interceptions and an 88.4 rating.
Quarterback Brandon Weeden returned to practice in a limited capacity after sustaining a concussion Dec. 1 against Jacksonville. Weeden will be the backup to Jason Campbell against Chicago if he passes the other steps necessary to be cleared to play in a game.
Left guard John Greco (sprained knee), running back Willis McGahee (concussion) and backup offensive lineman Reid Fragel (illness) didn’t practice. Greco walked through the locker room with a brace on his right knee. He would be replaced by Jason Pinkston if he can’t play.
Jackson (ankle) and left tackle Joe Thomas (back) were limited.
** For the Bears, linebacker Lance Briggs (shoulder) is expected to sit out Sunday. He’s missed six straight games.
Receiver Josh Gordon said he never wants to get hit in the knees and got a reminder Sunday when Gronkowski went down.
“It definitely is something to be scared about and be worried about,” he said. “Because it’s a career-ending type of injury. It could’ve been a lot worse than what it was if his foot was planted in the ground.
“You never want to see anything like that happen. But you can’t really go out there playing scared. Pretty much got to go out there willing to risk your life every time you go out there and play, and that’s the mentality all these guys have to play this game.”
COUNTING THE VOTES
Five Browns are among the top 10 at their positions in fan voting for the Pro Bowl. Voting ends on NFL.com Dec. 26 at 6 p.m., and the rosters are scheduled to be announced Dec. 27.
Chris Ogbonnaya is second among fullbacks with 222,495 votes, Thomas is third at tackle (145,141), Jordan Cameron is the fourth tight end (348,998), Ward is seventh among strong safeties (60,552) and Haden is eighth at cornerback (171,031).
The Pro Bowl rosters are determined by voting of the fans, players and coaches. Each group counts for a third in the selection process.
Contact Scott Petrak at 329-7253 or email@example.com. Fan him on Facebook and follow him on Twitter @scottpetrak.