TEMPE, Ariz. — Tyrann Mathieu felt something out of the ordinary as soon as he was tackled while returning a kick in the third quarter of Sunday’s win over the Rams at University of Phoenix Stadium.
“I felt it when the guy kind of jumped on my leg, but I felt like I could run it off,” Mathieu said Thursday at the team’s Tempe complex. “Once I got to the sideline, it just buckled.
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“I’ve twisted my ankle, sprained my ankle a few times, but I haven’t had a serious injury. Once my knee buckled, I knew it was a serious injury.”
As everyone knows by now, Mathieu suffered season-ending ACL and LCL tears on the play. He will have surgery Friday to repair both. The specifics of his rehab won’t be determined until after the surgery and recovery period.
Although nobody will put a timetable on Mathieu’s return so early in the process, Cardinals coach Bruce Arians said Monday that he doubts Mathieu will be ready for training camp, which begins in late July.
Mathieu hopes Arians is wrong.
“I heard that,” Mathieu said, smiling. “Coach is just being generous. He doesn’t want to rush me back, but hopefully everything goes well and goes fast and I can come back like A.P. (Vikings running back Adrian Peterson).”
Mathieu said he plans to do all his rehab in Arizona. He also plans to attend defensive back meetings before he gets treatment so he can be around the team as much as possible.
It’s the spaces in between that will be hard to fill.
“You don’t know what to do with your time. It’s kind of boring. That’s the only frustrating thing I’ve come across,” said Mathieu, who won’t travel with the team to Tennessee or Seattle the next two weeks. “I’m sure it will be all types of emotions. I can’t travel with those guys, but they know I’ll be locked in, tuned in.”
Arians noted Monday that such an injury can be devastating to young players who’ve never been through the process before.
“To take away the thing he loves the most and works so hard for, he was devastated,” Arians said, noting that Mathieu was crying when he heard the news.
But Mathieu said he has a lot of shoulders to lean on, including tight end Jim Dray and running back Ryan Williams, who have both been through extensive knee surgeries and rehabs. His year away from football (after being kicked off LSU’s team) also prepared him for dealing with idle time.
His greater concern is the impact his injury will have on the team.
“I felt like I disappointed my team,” he said. “We’re in a playoff chase, so you just want to be out there and help those guys. A lot people say I should have went down (on the kick), but I don’t play like that.”
Mathieu admitted that the emotions from the injury are a bit too fresh to fully reflect on what he accomplished this season after missing a season of college football and dealing with a fair amount of character assassination due to his off-field issues.
“I know I played pretty good, think I set a pretty good standard for rookies coming in at defensive back for the Cardinals this year, but I didn’t feel like I played my best,” he said. “I felt like the best was still ahead of me, so I’ve got some months to reflect on it and hopefully motivate me to go out there and set some records next year.”
With Mathieu out, safety Rashad Johnson is ready to reprise the starter’s role he held earlier in the season before he lost a fingertip on a freakish play against the Saints.
“To be starting at the beginning of the year and then have Tyrann come in, it definitely is something you have to work through mentally because we all want to be starters,” Johnson said. “But you just look at yourself in the mirror. You have to be a character guy and understand that everybody in this league is a great player so everybody’s not going to be a starter.”
“I was able to accept my role then, and now it’s going to grow bigger and get back to where it was.”
Mathieu said he is also at peace with his circumstances.
“Obviously, I’m still blessed,” he said. “I’m just looking forward to the future. Hopefully everything goes well in the future and, knock on wood, I don’t have to do deal with this anymore.”
In the meantime, he has to decide where and how he will watch the remaining Cardinals games.
“I don’t know what to do,” he said. “Maybe I’ll get me some popcorn.”