By George Bremer
The Herald Bulletin
There was no introspective soliloquy forthcoming from Robert Mathis.
No teary-eyed reminiscence of his nine-year Indianapolis Colts career.
Today’s game at Jacksonville will be his 135th with the franchise. It also could be his last.
The three-time Pro Bowl defensive end lobbied unsuccessfully for a contract extension in 2010. He’s mostly kept mum about his future this season, but he is scheduled to become a free agent in the offseason.
Mathis has made it clear his preference is to remain with the Colts, but the decision largely is out of his hands.
“It is what it is,” he said earlier this week at the team’s training facility. “That’s for my bosses. They have (the decision) in their offices. It is what it is.”
Owner Jim Irsay has said Indianapolis is cash over the salary cap this season, and the team has several key players scheduled for free agency. In addition to Mathis, wide receivers Reggie Wayne and Pierre Garcon, tight end Jacob Tamme and center Jeff Saturday are slated to hit the open market.
Throw in the uncertainty surrounding April’s draft — where the Colts will have either the first or second overall pick — and it’s unlikely Indy will be able to bring all of the free agents back.
Mathis seems determined to make it hard for the Colts to let him go.
He had two sacks, a forced fumble, a fumble recovery and three tackles against Houston and was named the AFC’s Defensive Player of the Week for the third time in his career.
For the season, Mathis has a team-high 8.5 sacks and will chase his fifth career double-digit sack season at Jacksonville today.
Perhaps most importantly, he’s anchored a defense that shut down AFC South rivals Houston and Tennessee in its past two games and helped end the Colts’ 13-game losing streak.
“They’ve been doing a better job of playing with a bit more cohesion,” head coach Jim Caldwell said of the defense. “They’ve certainly been playing fast. Things are a bit simpler for them, and they don’t have to think about a whole lot. So you let them sort of use their God-given ability to get to the ball.”
Mathis’ ability to get to the ball led to a strip sack of Texans quarterback T.J. Yates in the second quarter on Dec. 22. When Mathis recovered the fumble, it shifted momentum back into the Colts’ favor.
Houston put the first score on the board with a strip sack of Indianapolis quarterback Dan Orlovsky that was returned for a fumble 45 seconds into the game. The Texans were threatening to run away with it early, but Mathis’ play seemed to fire up his teammates.
The Colts didn’t allow another touchdown and won the game 19-16 on a touchdown pass from Orlovsky to Wayne with 19 seconds remaining.
With a win at Jacksonville, Indianapolis can complete an unlikely sweep of its AFC South rivals to close out the season.
And Mathis said such a feat could have impact next year.
“Momentum just carries over, and teams just know they just can’t come in here half-
stepping,” he said. “So we know we come to play, and we’re
not going to lay down for anybody.”
There are those who say the Colts are better off losing today and securing the No. 1 pick in the draft. Mathis declined to comment on such thinking other than to say the only thing he cares about is trying to win each time he takes the field.
The Jaguars will present a challenge in that regard. Running back Maurice Jones-Drew again is headed to the Pro Bowl, and he leads the NFL with 1,437 yards rushing.
He had 114 yards in Jacksonville’s 17-3 win at Indianapolis on Nov. 13, and he’s generally been a thorn in the Colts’ side for years.
“I would say he’s arguably the best back in the league,” Mathis said. “I have to see him twice a year every year so I’m a little biased towards him. He brings his lunch pail to work every day, and he’ll make you pay.”
Jacksonville is ranked No. 5 in total defense, and the Jaguars have said all week that staying in the top five in the final season standings is one of their goals. So Indianapolis might need to rely on its own defense to win today.
Mathis said the Colts’ defenders are happy with the way they’ve finished the season.
But they’re nowhere close to content.
“You want to be in the playoffs, but we’re not there,” he said. “So we’re not where we want to be. We still have a lot to improve on.”