INDIANAPOLIS — The fear entering this season was that outside linebacker Robert Mathis was the only proven pass rusher on the Indianapolis Colts' roster.
Turns out he's the only one they needed.
In his first season without longtime running mate Dwight Freeney, the former fifth-round draft pick out of Alabama A&M set a franchise record with 19.5 sacks and now sits atop the team's all-time list with 111 quarterback takedowns in his 11-year career.
By leading the NFL in sacks this season, he's been named the inaugural winner of the Deacon Jones Award. He was announced as the Colts' only Pro Bowl participant last week, and he was named to The Associated Press' all-pro team for the first time Friday.
The honors might not be done rolling in. Mathis is a leading candidate — alongside Carolina Panthers linebacker Luke Kuechly and St. Louis Rams defensive end Robert Quinn — for the NFL's Defensive Player of the Year award.
"I'd be shocked if he didn't receive that award," Indianapolis head coach Chuck Pagano said. "Robert, does he really care? If you know Robert like we all know Robert, he wants to win this game. He wants to be in New York in February. That's his No. 1 goal and only goal right now."
Mathis set his sights on Super Bowl XLVIII as early as training camp this summer. The road to New York begins for the Colts (11-5) today at Lucas Oil Stadium with an AFC Wild Card playoff game against the Kansas City Chiefs (11-5).
In Indianapolis' 23-7 win at Kansas City two weeks ago, Mathis was awarded one sack of Chiefs quarterback Alex Smith on a play that was originally ruled an interception. The linebacker hit Smith as he was preparing to throw, knocking the ball out of his hand. The football bounced off the quarterback's forearm and traveled several yards down field before being caught by Colts linebacker Jerrell Freeman.