Before the Colts had much time to recover from a 31-24 loss to Denver Sunday night, they were informed the next morning that Robert Mathis will miss the season.
Talk about a gut punch.
The suspended outside linebacker tore an Achilles tendon while working out in Atlanta last week. The Colts were already dealing with the reality of not having the reigning NFL sack champion for four games due to a suspension for violating the NFL’s policy on performance-enhancing drugs.
Now it’s for the year.
“Really a devastating blow for Robert, his family and our team and this organization,” said coach Chuck Pagano. “We hate to lose anybody, but this one stings.”
Pagano reminded the Colts endured a similar situation last year, when team leader Reggie Wayne suffered a season-ending knee injury in a game against the Broncos. Wayne returned to the lineup Sunday night with nine catches for 98 yards.
“It’s just like Reggie,” Pagano said. “Last year we lost Reggie and it was the same thing. You’ve got your warrior, your leader in the locker room, the leader of your team. And that presence alone, it was missed (Sunday night) and now it will be missed (more).”
Mathis called Colts head athletic trainer Dave Hammer with the bad news. Consultation on injuries is an exception to the league’s suspension rules on non-contact.
Mathis turns 34 in February, which will inevitably fuel speculation about how much the 12th-year pro can recover for a contract year. The former fifth-round pick out of Alabama A&M holds the Colts’ all-time sack record with 111. He had set a single-season team record with 19.5 sacks last season.
Wayne came back from his ACL injury to catch nine passes for 98 yards at Denver. Just like when the team was dealing with Wayne’s injury, Pagano said he has no doubt Mathis will return.
Player reaction was to be expected — but it was as if the Colts had been kicked in the head twice, first the loss of a game, then one of their best players.
“We realize it can be a cruel world in a sense when it comes to injuries,” quarterback Andrew Luck said.
Offensive left tackle Anthony Castonzo said, “He’s a leader of this team, a guy we rely on as both an emotional leader and on the field. That’s a big blow.”
Mathis tested positive for using the performance-enhancing substance Clomid. He admitted to using it to get his wife pregnant. And the couple succeeded. He and his wife, Brandi, recently celebrated the birth of a daughter.
“What softens the blow, it if does at all, is the fact that we were going to have to play without him for the first four games (anyway),” said tight end Dwayne Allen. “So those guys that were already out there performing, instead of the first four they’re expected to play at a high level for all 16.”
The Colts struggled to generate a consistent pass rush at Denver, where Peyton Manning was sacked only once. Second-year outside linebacker Bjoern Werner, a first-round selection, has yet to make any impact plays in his career. Outside linebacker Erik Walden got the one sack, but it was just the 13th of his eight-year career.
“You never see (injuries) coming,” Castonzo said. “Yeah, it’s just so frustrating. There’s nothing you can do about it, but it’s part of the game.”Phillip B. Wilson can be found on Twitter (@pwilson24), Facebook and Google+.