SAME AS HE EVER WAS

Colts DE Robert Mathis this past season made his first Pro Bowl appearance. But Mathis, who has led the Colts in sacks each of the last four seasons, said getting long-awaited recognition won't change his approach to each season.

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Colts DE Robert Mathis Says Approach Won't Change After First Pro Bowl Appearance

INDIANAPOLIS – He achieved a goal he thought he might never achieve, and now that that's done, Robert Mathis said he doesn't feel too much different.

Yes, Mathis said, the Pro Bowl was an objective.

And the trip was memorable.

But Mathis, a defensive end entering his seventh season with the Colts and one of the NFL's best pass-rushers the last five seasons, said the thing about finally getting recognition he never imagined he would get is he never worried about the recognition in the first place.

So now that he has it?

"Not a change at all," Mathis said during the Colts' recent offseason conditioning program at the Indiana Farm Bureau Football Center.

"It was a good experience. I got to take my family to Hawaii . . . now, on to this year."

Which Mathis said has been his approach since he can remember.

It's an approach that has made him one of the Colts' core defensive players, and one of the top defensive playmakers in the NFL.

Mathis, a fifth-round selection by the Colts in the 2003 NFL Draft from Alabama A&M, not only has registered at least 7.5 sacks in each of the last five seasons, in the last four seasons -- despite the presence of four-time pro Bowl defensive end Dwight Freeney – he has led the Colts in sacks.

The franchise's second all-time sacks leader, Mathis has 50 sacks in the last five seasons, including 11.5 last season when he made the Pro Bowl for the first time. He and Freeney became the first Colts defensive end tandem to make the Pro Bowl in the same season since the team's 1984 move to Indianapolis, combining for 22 sacks, 49 pressures and nine forced fumbles.

"They had great years," Colts Head Coach Jim Caldwell said this offseason. "Rarely do you have two guys like Robert and Dwight. They are guys who do a great job of thwarting our opponent in terms of both run and pass. They create a lot of problems for teams and create a lot of turnovers.

"At some point in time, when teams feel like they've got to make a move and drop back and throw the ball, they have to be concerned with those two guys."

Mathis never has had a season in which he has forced fewer than three fumbles, and of his 30 career forced fumbles, five came last season.

Mathis also recovered three fumbles last season, including one in the fourth quarter against the Cleveland Browns that he returned 37 yards for the game-winning points in a 10-6 November victory at Cleveland. Mathis also forced a key fourth-quarter fumble by quarterback Sage Rosenfels in a come-from-behind victory over Houston in early October.

And although Mathis said he is far from feeling old, he said he is struck by how quickly he has reached his seventh NFL season.

"I'm an old man," Mathis said, laughing. "It went by really fast. With the exception of the rookie year, all the other years go by real fast. I still feel like I'm a freshman in college."

Mathis said before he made the Pro Bowl he doubted he would ever make the game. Not that he didn't believe in his ability or because he doubted his effectiveness, but he said observers and analysts often overlooked him because at 6-feet-2, 235 pounds he is relatively small by NFL standards.

Making the Pro Bowl was nice, Mathis said. But he said what's just as true is that getting that recognition won't stop him from being motivated by critics he knows still exist.

"I still have a chip on my shoulder," he said. "That's the naysayers. I still get the 'too small to play the run' – all of the irrelevant stuff. You still hear it. I guess people still want something to talk about, so that gives them something to talk about."

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