INDIANAPOLIS (AP) Robert Mathis' season is over before it even began.
Less than two weeks after leaving the Colts to start serving a four-game suspension for violating the league's performance-enhancing substance policy, coach Chuck Pagano said team doctors confirmed their worst fears: The 2013 NFL sacks champion tore his Achilles tendon during a private workout in Atlanta. Pagano said he believed Mathis was scheduled to have surgery Thursday.
The more muddled question is about Mathis' return.
Yes, Mathis defied the odds last year when, at age 32 and without his longtime friend and teammate Dwight Freeney on the opposite side, produced a franchise record 19 1/2 sacks and became the inaugural winner of the Deacon Jones Award.
But the long road back could be a tough one.
''I would say that Achilles injuries are one of the toughest injuries to deal with because they are less predictable then say an ACL,'' said Dr. Mark Drakos, who specializes in foot and ankle disorders at the Hospital for Special Surgery in New York and is a former Harvard football player. ''Not a lot of studies have been done on this, but one of them shows about 31 to 32 percent of guys who get this injury never play in the NFL again. Part of that is a selection bias, but the point is it's tough to come back from.''
Drakos is not treating the 6-foot-2, 245-pound Pro Bowl linebacker.
When Mathis came out of Alabama A&M in 2003, most teams thought he was too small to survive in the NFL. When the fifth-round draft pick then emerged as one of the league's best pass rushers, many thought it was because Freeney was helping from the other side. When he moved to linebacker, at age 31, some questioned his coverage skills. Along the way, though, Mathis persevered, making it to six Pro Bowls and breaking Freeney's franchise record with 120 career sacks.
Kobe Bryant and Terrell Suggs are examples of players who have come back from Achilles surgery.
However Drakos believes it could be a bigger significant challenge for a 34-year-old pass rusher who relies so much on speed.
''He had a phenomenal year last year, and usually you think an older athlete will have a slow decline,'' Drakos said. ''But we expect (a torn Achilles') to happen more in older players, and it can affect their explosiveness.''
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