BEREA — Jets coach Rex Ryan must be on the naughty list, because it looks like Santa Claus isn’t going to bring one of the gifts he requested.
Browns cornerback Joe Haden returned to practice Friday from a hip pointer, ran well and appeared in line to play Sunday against the Jets in MetLife Stadium. He was limited, listed as questionable (50-50 chance of playing) on the official injury report and said he’ll be a gametime decision.
“It felt pretty good,” he said. “We’re still working day by day. I want to play, for sure.”
“I think he’s going to play. I’m not sure, though,” strong safety and good friend T.J. Ward said. “I think he’s coming along, he’s progressing, but we’ll see on Sunday.”
Haden was injured Sunday when Bears left tackle Jermon Bushrod inadvertently kneed him in the left hip. Haden left the game in the third quarter with the painful bruise and was unable to return. He missed practice Wednesday and Thursday.
Ryan was excited about the possibility of the Browns being without their top cornerback.
“That would be a break for sure,” Ryan said Wednesday on a conference call. “Because I think Joe Haden is a rare guy. I’ve been fortunate to be around a lot of great corners. He is definitely an impact player. Absolutely outstanding. Obviously a Pro Bowl corner.
“That would be big for us. He can match up, lock down your top receiver. Nothing against Joe, I hope he’s healthy, but if it’s all up to me, a Christmas list, he should probably take another week off.”
Haden doesn’t want to grant that wish. He’d rather be a lump of coal in Ryan’s stocking.
“Man, I’m bad Santa,” Haden said.
He warmed up and went through individual drills and said he still felt pain in the hip.
“Joe looked good. Joe looked like Joe himself,” free safety Tashaun Gipson said. “I just know he looked like the Joe Haden that I’ve been seeing Week 1 through 14.”
Haden will continue to get treatment in advance of the game. Besides tolerating the pain, he wants to make sure he can move like he must to play one of the most demanding positions on the field.
“I feel it. It’s just seeing how much I can do,” he said.
Not only is Haden the team’s clear-cut No. 1 corner — he’s assigned to the opponent’s best wideout every week — he’s arguably the best player on defense. He shares the interception lead with Ward with four, is second with 19 passes defensed (per the coaches’ film review) and has 58 tackles.
“He’s been an integral part of our defense,” coordinator Ray Horton said. “We definitely need him to play and want him to play.”
After a great start to the season and the best game of his career against Cincinnati — he shut out A.J. Green, intercepted two passes and returned one for a touchdown — Haden’s performance has slipped over the last month. He’s given up a touchdown in each of the last four games, including the winner in the final minute to Jacksonville’s Cecil Shorts III.
“I haven’t been doing my best ball but I’ve been playing pretty solid,” Haden said. “It’s not like I’m down on myself. I know what I can do. When I’m healthy I’m going to put my best foot forward.”
Horton hasn’t changed his opinion.
“When you look at the body of his work, he’s had a fantastic year, catching the ball, tackling, being smart doing that,” he said.
If Haden is unable to play, or finish, rookie third-round pick Leon McFadden would take his place in the starting lineup. First-year player Julian Posey would become the third cornerback in nickel packages.
“He’s definitely the hot corner, if you will, because as a rookie, they’re going to come after you,” Horton said of McFadden. “They know who’s playing, just like we know who’s playing on their side. He’s going to get tested until he can prove that, ‘Hey, either I’m not a rookie or if you do throw at me, I’ll take it back on you.’ So I’m sure he’s aware that this week in New York, he’ll probably have a little bit of target on him because of being a rookie and having two penalties the last two weeks.”
McFadden was called for pass interference in the fourth quarter of the last two games. Both set up touchdowns.
“I gotta turn my head,” he said. “That’s the biggest thing, and make a play on the ball. That was bad on my technique, so that’s something that I’m correcting.”
Haden wants to play under any circumstances. The chance to face Jets rookie quarterback and interception machine Geno Smith is an added incentive.
“Especially playing corner, you want opportunities,” Haden said. “Twenty-one picks — I’m not trying to knock Geno at all, but that’s something that jumps out at you and makes you feel as a DB that you can get your hands on some of those balls.”