By Nate Ulrich
Beacon Journal sports writer
BEREA: Browns cornerback Joe Haden has gone from the brink of a Pro Bowl bid to wondering whether he’ll even be able to finish this season.
Although Browns coach Rob Chudzinski said X-rays were negative, Haden insisted he doesn’t know whether he’ll be able to play Sunday when the Browns (4-10) visit the New York Jets (6-8) because the hip pointer he suffered this past weekend during a 38-31 loss to the Chicago Bears is causing him significant pain. With only two games remaining, there’s a possibility he won’t play again until next season.
“If I can play, I’m going to play,” Haden said Monday. “If I can’t, I won’t. So I would love to definitely finish out the season and play. But I’m not going to go out there if I’m not ready or if I’m going to hurt the team in any way.”
Four weeks ago, Haden appeared to be in prime position to earn the first Pro Bowl selection of his career, though he’s no longer considered a lock after allowing a touchdown in each of the past four games. His decline has been emblematic of the entire team.
The Browns have blown fourth-quarter leads in each of the past three games. In those losses, their opponents have scored during eight out of nine fourth-quarter possessions, including six touchdowns. For the past two months, the meltdowns have also been frequent at the end of the first half. In seven of the past eight games, the Browns have allowed points in the last two minutes before halftime, surrendering a total of nine scoring drives and 43 points.
“We’re not playing at our best level,” said Haden, the team’s undisputed No. 1 cornerback. “I’m not playing at my best level. I’ve got to do better. I can do better, and we will do better. It’s just we’ve got to step up and start making plays, and when we get those leads, don’t try to do too much, just do your job, do what got you to that position. That’s all we’ve got to do because we’ve played good at the beginning of the games. It’s just always right before half or in the fourth quarter or the end, I think we’re trying to do a little too much.”
Breakdowns in clutch situations are a major reason the Browns are in the midst of a five-game losing streak and have double-digit losses for the sixth season in a row. Only the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and the Oakland Raiders have suffered 10-plus losses in more consecutive seasons. According to STATS LLC, the Buccaneers did it in 12 consecutive seasons (1983-94) and the Raiders in seven (2003-09).
“It has to [get better],” Haden said. “What else are we going to do? Keep letting this [stuff] happen? We’ve got to start eventually making things happen, and our D, we were going up, and now it’s starting to go down a little bit, and we can’t let that happen. The meeting we had today, they’re not the same meetings when we come in like, ‘All right guys, we did good, here we go now.’ It’s more we’re sitting down and really having legit conversations like, ‘Dude, why did this happen? What do we need to change so this doesn’t happen.’ This is not the same old Browns.”
That message is nearly impossible to sell when a team has lost eight of its past nine games. Haden might not to be able to return for the final two weeks to try to help the Browns end on a positive note. He described his status as “day-to-day” but said he had no idea if he would be able to participate Wednesday when practice resumes.
The 5-foot-11, 190-pound Haden said he’s been icing his bruised hip and receiving electrical muscle stimulation. He also said the pain he’s experiencing makes sleeping difficult.
If Haden is sidelined against the Jets, Julian Posey and rookie Leon McFadden will receive more playing time. After Haden went out against the Bears, Posey and McFadden played on the outside, and starter Buster Skrine covered the slot against three-receiver sets.
“You can’t replace Joe Haden,” Posey said. “I really have to tip my hat to him. You don’t really fill in for him. I’m my own man. I have my own skills, and I have my own talents and abilities and I play different. My style’s different. It’s kind of like Kung Fu. He’s praying mantis. I may be crouching tiger.”
The seventh overall pick in the 2010 draft, Haden was knocked out of the game Sunday with 4:16 left in the third quarter when Bears offensive tackle Jermon Bushrod’s left knee collided with his left hip during a running play.
“I went to go cut [Bushrod] with my shoulder pad, and I overshot it,” Haden said. “So I just left my whole side exposed, and his knee drove right into my side. I was trying to set the edge.”
He remained on the ground for a minute or two.
“I knew I wasn’t able to get up at the time,” Haden said. “It was just hurting. I just felt pain. I knew it wasn’t nothing bad, bad. I knew I was going to be OK. But I just knew at that very moment, I just couldn’t get up.”
With Haden out of the game, the Browns blew a 24-17 lead in the fourth quarter by surrendering three touchdowns — two passing and one rushing — in a span of 8 minutes, 42 seconds.
“It’s tough, definitely,” Haden said. “But I didn’t want to go out there and hurt my team, either. I was trying to see if I could move and stuff like that, but I would’ve went out there, and I would’ve hurt them way more than I could help.”
Even before the injury, Haden wasn’t helping the defense as much as he did in the first 10 games of the season. In the past four games, the Pittsburgh Steelers’ Antonio Brown, the Jacksonville Jaguars’ Cecil Shorts, the New England Patriots’ Julian Edelman and the Bears’ Brandon Marshall have each finished with six catches and a touchdown with Haden assigned to them.
In the second quarter Sunday, Marshall outjumped Haden for a 41-yard catch on a fly route. Two plays later, Marshall beat Haden on an out route for a 5-yard touchdown with 24 seconds left in the second quarter, allowing the Bears to tie the score 10-10 at halftime.
“I’m playing well,” Haden said. “It’s just that the receivers are making plays also. Brandon Marshall is a really good player. With those 50-50 balls, usually I’m making the play. He made the play last game on a couple of them. So I’ve got to tighten up, and on the touchdown, instead of trying to go for the interception, I’ve got to try to reach out with one hand and try to knock it down.”
Haden hopes his injury doesn’t prevent him from getting a chance to redeem himself in the next two weeks.
Nate Ulrich can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Read the Browns blog at http://www.ohio.com/browns. Follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/NateUlrichABJ and on Facebook www.facebook.com/browns.abj.