When rebuilding became the mandate for the Indianapolis Colts following the 2011 season, a large number of Colts veterans had the opportunity to jump ship.
Robert Mathis did not.
One of only a handful of Pro Bowl-pedigreed players not to depart after the 2-14 debacle of 2011, Mathis, suffice it to say, has no regrets about sticking around.
As evidenced by the Colts’ 11-5 regular-season record and playoff appearance, the veteran outside linebacker is more convinced than ever that he made the right decision.
“I feel like I’m a loyal guy, and I feel like the club’s loyal, as well, so we did right by each other,” said Mathis, who has played all 10 of his NFL seasons with the Colts. “And I feel like it paid off.”
In more ways than one.
From a team perspective, Mathis’ return was critical to its fortunes. A pillar of production and leadership, the 31-year-old pass-rush specialist was the heart and soul of a defense that never crumbled despite a wealth of inexperience and a parade of injuries.
On a personal satisfaction level, Mathis made a position switch from defensive end to linebacker and flourished in that role, too. Despite missing four games with a knee injury, he had 33 tackles, including 22 solos, and a team-high eight sacks and received his fifth straight Pro Bowl nod.
But for Mathis, who signed a four-year extension in the midst of last year’s well-documented housecleaning, the most rewarding aspect of 2012 was accomplishing what few outside the Colts’ inner circle expected them to. Not surprisingly, he expects more next season.
“What we have, what we’ve done with such a young team, the sky is the limit for us next year,” Mathis said. “I have nothing but positive things looking forward, and we felt as though we put our best foot forward.”
Other veterans feel the same way.
Seventh-year safety Antoine Bethea, a Pro Bowler in 2007 and 2009, applauds what the Colts achieved and anticipates a bigger and better 2013.
“With the coaching staff that came in and the new guys mixed with the vets, man, we have something special here, and I just think next year will be even better,” said Bethea, the Colts’ leading tackler in 2012 with 145, including 90 solos and two sacks.
Mathis agrees. But he also knows next year will be different in a significant way: Indianapolis can forget about sneaking up on anyone.
“The element of surprise is not there anymore,” he said. “People know what we’ve got; and they know when they play the Colts, we’re coming fighting. We come to play the game ... really all that matters is that we believe in each other, and we know what we’re capable of doing.”