Colts’ Robert Mathis returns Sunday, but future uncertain

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Robert Mathis

INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. – The short-term outlook for Robert Mathis is encouraging. It’s the long-term view that’s a bit hazy.

The Indianapolis Colts’ veteran linebacker is expected to return Sunday against the Minnesota Vikings. Mathis has missed the last two games with a biceps injury.

“Yeah, feels really great,’’ he said Friday. “Ready to go.’’

Applying an authoritative exclamation mark to his 14th season with the Colts motivates Mathis.

“It would mean a lot,’’ he said. “You always want to finish what you start. That’s what my momma taught me.’’

On a grander scale, though, it’s fair to wonder how Mathis will finish what started in 2003 when the Colts selected him in the fifth round of the draft.

He’s the team’s career sack leader with 121 and holds the NFL record with 45 sack/fumbles. He’s appeared in 189 games, ninth-most in team history, and his 14 seasons with the team are tied with Peyton Manning and Reggie Wayne for second-most in franchise history. John Unitas (17) holds the record.

But Mathis is in the final year of his contract and will be an unrestricted free agent. And he turns 36 Feb. 26.

However this season turns out, management is going to want the defense to get markedly younger in the offseason. Will there be a role for someone who has been the heart and soul of the roster, but whose recent effectiveness has curtailed by injuries? Mathis dealt with a toe injury early in the season.

Mathis insisted he’ll sit down with his family and discuss his future at the appropriate time.

“It’s what you feel after the season,’’ he said. “Listen to your body and listen to your family. When that time comes, that’s when you listen to it.’’

Some players simply know when it’s time to walk away. Will Mathis?

“I hope so. Never been through it before,’’ he said. “Every season you feel whatever you feel. We’ll see.

“The love is still there. There’s still a fire that burns. Still hate quarterbacks. That ain’t went nowhere. It’s the love of the game.’’

Mathis’ frustration over the Colts’ underachieving season seemed to bubble to the surface Tuesday during his weekly radio show. After the crippling loss to the Houston Texans, he questioned the team’s mental toughness.

“We are not the strongest mentally as a team,’’ he said. “Mentally we need to get strong.’’

Mathis made certain to include himself in the unflattering critique of a team likely to miss the playoffs in consecutive seasons for the first time since 1997-98, but it nonetheless was a rare negative appraisal from him.

Mathis indicated the media made too much of his comments.

“Honestly, I think it’s media people acting like little junior high school girls trying to create some stuff,’’ he said. “My team knows me. They know I speak from the heart. I don’t throw a rock and hide my head.

“They understood me and I put a lot of it on myself. I say what I feel, feel what I say. I thought I needed to say it.’’

Medical update:

The Colts will be shorthanded as they attempt to keep their slim playoffs alive Sunday against the Vikings.

Four starters have been ruled out of the game: right tackle Joe Reitz (back), guard Denzelle Good (concussion), wide receiver Donte Moncrief (hamstring) and defensive tackle Art Jones (groin). Four players are questionable: safety T.J. Green (ankle), tight end Dwayne Allen (hip), defensive tackle Zach Kerr (concussion) and wide receiver Phillip Dorsett (groin).

Earlier in the week, the team placed three starters on the season-ending injured reserve list: guard Jack Mewhort (knee), safety Clayton Geathers (neck) and cornerback Patrick Robinson (groin).

We’ll save you the math. With the moves to IR and players being ruled out of the Vikings game, the Colts will be without seven starters Sunday, nine if you include defensive end Kendall Langford, who went on IR in November with a knee injury.

Peterson back:

Adrian Peterson announced he’ll make his return Sunday against the Colts. The Vikings veteran running back has been on the injured reserve list since tearing the meniscus in his right knee Sept. 18 against Green Bay.

During a Friday interview on Dash Radio, Peterson said a week of practice “showed me I’m ready to roll,’’ and added the decision was made after meeting with coach Mike Zimmer, position coach Kevin Stefanski and the team’s training staff.

“I was able to come to the conclusion . . . that I’m ready to go,’’ Peterson said.

The Vikings undoubtedly will monitor Peterson’s playing time against the Colts. In two games before injuring his knee, Peterson rushed 31 times for just 50 yards.

Green, Walden fined:

Rookie safety T.J. Green was fined $9,115 for running into Houston placekicker Nick Novak on a field-goal attempt during Sunday’s game.

Also, linebacker Erik Walden was fined $9,115 for an unnecessary roughness penalty during the game.

Houston offensive tackle Chris Clark was fined $9,115 for a face-mask penalty.