INDIANAPOLIS — About halfway through the first quarter of Sunday's game against the Kansas City Chiefs, Indianapolis Colts outside linebacker Robert Mathis, on 2nd and 7, stopped running back Spencer Ware for a three-yard gain.
On third down, Mathis — as he has done so many times in his career — chased down quarterback Nick Foles for a big sack and a loss of six yards. The Chiefs would then see their 28-yard field goal attempt on fourth down bounce off the right upright. No good.
Just three weeks ago at this time, the narrative about Mathis was that Father Time had caught up with the 35 year old; that the 14-year NFL veteran had nothing left in the tank, which was evidenced by his zero sacks through the first five weeks of the season.
Was it true? Had the Colts' all-time leader in sacks — one of the league's biggest terrors to quarterbacks for 10-plus seasons — withered away to just another body out there on the field?
But now, after a solid three-game stretch — one that includes two sacks, a forced fumble and a fumble recovered for a touchdown — Mathis has been able to put that talk to rest.
Perhaps it wasn't as much Father Time catching up with Mathis as much as him needing a nagging foot injury, one that hampered him for most of the first few weeks of the season, to finally heal up.
"A lot better," Mathis said this week, when asked how his foot was feeling on “The Robert Mathis Show” with Query and Shultz. "The foot doesn't bother me anymore. I'm starting to come into my own now, so I'm happy about things."
The foot certainly has helped Mathis' usually-lethal first step — and then it hasn't hurt that he's been at the right place at the right time on occasion the past three weeks.
During the Colts' Week 6 game against the Houston Texans, Mathis put aside one of the longest sack droughts of his career early in the first quarter, when he knocked the ball out of Texans quarterback Brock Osweiler's hands on their third play from scrimmage. The forced fumble was the 50th of Mathis' career, a stat category in which he has led the entire NFL over the span of his 14-year career.
The next week against the Tennessee Titans, Mathis had tallied two tackles, including one for a loss, when the Titans began a drive hoping to respond after the Colts had scored a go-ahead touchdown late in the fourth quarter.
A visual look back at the amazing career of Robert Mathis. (2003-present)
Instead, defensive lineman T.Y. McGill knocked the ball loose out of quarterback Marcus Mariota's hands, and Mathis just happened to be right there to pick up the ball and run it in 14 yards untouched into the end zone to officially put the game out of reach for Indianapolis. It was the third career fumble recovery for a score in Mathis' career, as well as the Colts' first defensive touchdown of the season.
Then came last week's game against the Chiefs, when Mathis recorded a sack to go along with five tackles — two for a loss — as well as another quarterback hit at Lucas Oil Stadium.
"Like I said, with the foot, that was kind of weighing me down a lot," Mathis said of his recent rise in performance. "I was able to get through it, push through it, so it doesn't bother me anymore. And so I feel like my first step is there again."
What's unfortunate for Mathis and the Colts, however, is the pass rusher's rise has come at a time when the team hasn't been able to find the same kind of consistent success.
The Colts (3-5) are 1-2 in the past three weeks, including deflating losses to the Texans — who overcame a two-score deficit midway through the fourth quarter to force overtime, where they won, 26-23 — and Sunday's 30-14 home loss to the Chiefs.
So while Mathis is certainly encouraged from an individual standpoint, he knows it means nothing if his team isn't benefitting at the same time.
"That's first — team first," he said. "And so the individual accolades and all that stuff, it's really kind of null and void if you can't put a team win together."
Mathis has been part of some tremendous Colts teams over the years, including a Super Bowl champion in 2006 and another AFC Championship squad in 2009. Since joining the Colts as a fifth-round pick out of Alabama A&M in 2003, Indianapolis has averaged 11 wins per season entering 2016.
He says this Sunday's game on the road against the Green Bay Packers, heading into the team's bye week, has reached "put up or shut up" status.
"You hate to keep saying week in and week out, 'Back to the drawing board. Back to this,' and the old clichés," Mathis said.
Then, when the Colts return from their bye week, they run into what Mathis considers a "gauntlet," which features many teams — like the Steelers, Texans, Vikings and Raiders — who will be fighting hard for playoff positioning.
If the Colts want to eventually be fighting right along side those teams for a postseason spot, then Mathis says the team needs to figure out its inconsistencies — and fast.
"The mindset? No. The effort? No. It's just the little things that constantly kills us, which is the things that are the avoidable 'S.I.N.S' — the 'self-inflicted negatives,'" Mathis said. "We just have to get those things straightened out, and once we do, we'll be where we want to be.
"I've been fortunate and blessed to be around a lot of great teams since 2003, and Colts' football is closing games out, and doing the little things and not creating those, I guess, knucklehead penalties to get you in trouble."