Robert Mathis Picks the Best Three Colts Comebacks
Drafted and signed in 2003, Robert Mathis is the longest-tenured defensive player on the Colts, second on the full roster only to Reggie Wayne. The reigning AFC Defensive Player of the Year punished the opposition with 19.5 sacks during the 2013 season. He’s a six-time Pro Bowler and the Colts’ all-time sack leader. But first and foremost, the undersized pass-rusher—a pipsqueak in a powerhouse world—is an underdog who can’t resist a good comeback story. Here are his favorites:
October 6, 2003: Colts at Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Monday Night Football. John Madden in the booth. Playing the defending Super Bowl champs. This was familiar to Mathis—but only as a kid sneaking one past his mother. “I used to watch the first three quarters, and then my mom made me go to bed,” he says, “so I’d turn the volume down low and watch the rest of the game.”
At first, this contest, Mathis’s fifth as a pro, didn’t seem worth watching. Tampa Bay threw up 21 unanswered second-half points for a three-touchdown lead with 5:09 left. The Colts cobbled together three late scores before sealing an overtime win on a field goal, which ricocheted off a defender and the post before snaking through the uprights.
Mathis credits coach Tony Dungy for the win, which came on Dungy’s 48th birthday and against his old team: “Dungy is the ultimate players’ coach and a man’s man,” says Mathis. “He’s not going to raise his voice. He’s going to treat and respect you like a man. He’ll tell you, ‘If you don’t do it, somebody else will.’ He’ll put somebody else in if you can’t do the job.”
January 21, 2007: AFC Championship, RCA Dome.
At halftime, Mathis sat in the locker room waiting for Dungy to address his sullen troops. The Colts found themselves down 21-6 to New England, who hadn’t lost a conference title in six tries. “Nobody was saying much of anything—we were shell-shocked,” says Mathis. Dungy reminded the players to believe that, as Mathis remembers, “This was our time.” Peyton Manning’s offense logged 32 second-half points, including a game-winning 80-yard drive late in the fourth, and Mathis recorded four tackles. But cornerback Marlin Jackson’s late, drive-killing interception and collapse to the turf is the lasting memory most fans took from that game.
“I imagined making the play to send my team to the Super Bowl as a kid,” Jackson says.
January 4, 2014 AFC Wild Card, Lucas Oil Stadium
The Colts trailed the Kansas City Chiefs by as many as 28 points in the second half. “We were just scratching our heads,” says Mathis, “trying to figure out what the heck happened.” His strip-sack in the third quarter helped snap the Colts back to life, and Andrew Luck tossed a touchdown to Donald Brown six plays later. Luck then threw two more TD passes and recovered a fumble at the goal line to run in another score for a 45-44 win—the second-largest comeback in playoff history. “It was a scene for No. 12,” Mathis says. “He matured.” Luck is more modest: “That was a very fortunate bounce. We really don’t want that to happen again.”
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This article appeared in the September “30 for 30” feature, a roundup of the most memorable moments in Indianapolis Colts history.