PITTSBURGH — Pittsburgh Steelers cornerback Joe Haden isn’t taking anything for granted.
The eight-year veteran, who has never played in the playoffs, experienced a scare when he broke his leg a month ago against Indianapolis. Five weeks later, Haden has recovered to the point where he’s on track to play Monday when the AFC North champion Steelers (11-3) visit the Houston Texans (4-10).
“Once I found out that I didn’t need surgery, and it was going to be four to six weeks, my whole goal was to make sure I could get back within the regular season, so when I come into the playoffs, there’s no question, I’m ready to go,” Haden said.
Haden spent his first seven seasons in Cleveland. Pittsburgh signed the two-time Pro Bowler on the eve of the regular season after he was released by the Browns.
Haden is excited to have an opportunity to see the playoffs this season.
“Every time I was in Cleveland, around Week 13 or 14, we kind of knew we were eliminated from playoff contention,” Haden said. “This is a whole different vibe. This is what we’ve been fighting for the whole season and I love it because you have so many people who have been in it already and I’m just kind of following their lead.”
Haden almost didn’t get that chance, suffering a broken fibula on Nov. 12 at Indianapolis.
Last week, he returned to practice for the first time since the injury but in a limited capacity before missing the game against New England. He was held out as a precaution but has been full-go this week while preparing for Pittsburgh’s visit to Houston.
“I just wasn’t game-ready (against the Patriots),” Haden said. “I wasn’t able to make cuts and breaks and have confidence jumping and landing. This week, everything felt good, and when I came out to practice, I was able to have so much more confidence and make all the movements that I needed to.”
That confidence has carried to the Steelers’ defense, which is ranked No. 4 overall and fifth against the pass.
Pittsburgh ranked 16th against the pass last season, but Haden provided an immediate boost on the back end.
The Steelers allowed an average of 284 total yards, 15 points and 181 yards passing per game with Haden in the lineup. Pittsburgh gave up an average of 350 total yards, 26 points and 251 yards passing per game with Haden sidelined for five weeks.
“I was having fun at the beginning of the season, being able to play on a winning team, being able to play with my guys . the secondary was doing really well, our defense was doing well,” Haden said. “When I was out, it kind of felt like I was in the way. I just wanted to be part of it and now it’s nice just being able to work myself back into being able to play.”
Haden is making sure he doesn’t take anything for granted along the way.
“This is my first time going to the playoffs,” he said. “A lot of people on this team wouldn’t understand that. It’s a special feeling knowing that January is when the real ball is going to start.”
Steelers G Ramon Foster (concussion) and CB Coty Sensabaugh (shoulder) are questionable. ... WR Antonio Brown is out with a left calf injury. ... The Steelers activated right tackle Marcus Gilbert from the suspended list on Saturday. Gilbert missed Pittsburgh’s last four games while serving a suspension for violating the league’s performance-enhancing substance policy. To make room for Gilbert, Pittsburgh cut veteran linebacker James Harrison. The 39-year-old Harrison is a five-time Pro Bowler, the 2008 NFL defensive player of the year and the franchise’s all-time leader in sacks (80.5).