The New England Patriots will determine Friday whether injured wide receiver Irving Fryar will be able to play against the Chicago Bears in Super Bowl XX on Jan. 26.

Fryar, the league's leading punt returner, severed a tendon in his little finger and cut two other fingers on his right hand nine days ago, reportedly in a dispute with his wife Jacqueline, who is five months pregnant.

Fryar was examined Tuesday by team physician Dr. Bert Zerins and by Dr. Richard Smith, a hand specialist, and reports indicated that the hand is healing more rapidly than initially expected. Club spokesman Dave Simon said yesterday that Fryar will be examined again Friday when a decision will be made on his availability for the Super Bowl.

Coach Raymond Berry said: "If he is ready, I intend on using him. The question is whether he will be risking further injury."

Fryar, 23, did not play in the Patriots' 31-14 victory over Miami last Sunday in the American Conference title game. He was replaced by receiver Stephen Starring, who did not catch a pass against the Dolphins. Safety Roland James filled in as the team's punt returner and suffered two fumbles in the game.

Meanwhile, St. Louis owner Bill Bidwell has received permission to speak with Patriots defensive coordinator Rod Rust after the Super Bowl about the Cardinals' vacant head coaching job. Rust, 56, has directed the Patriots defense for the past three years, first for Ron Meyer and now for Berry. The defense has forced 13 turnovers in three postseason games (the special teams have forced three others).

Patrick Sullivan, Patriots general manager, told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch: "I strongly endorsed Rod Rust to the Cardinals, although selfishly speaking I would hate to lose him."

"If the Cardinals are interested in me," Rust told the paper, "I think that's neat. I'll be delighted to sit down with them, but right now I am thinking of little else but the Super Bowl."

Bidwell has interviewed several other candidates, including Redskins assistant coaches Richie Petitbon and Jerry Rhome and Dallas assistant coach Gene Stallings. Bidwell fired Coach Jim Hanifan and the entire coaching staff after the Cardinals finished last season with a 5-11 record.