Tyrann Mathieu's rookie season didn't transform the way defenses play or the Cardinals D, for that matter. He certainly improved it, but he's not a shutdown corner or an All-Pro kleptomaniac yet. It was transformative for the shift in out perception of Mathieu following the previous 16 months of his life after he was kicked off LSU's football team. Being accused of committing an NCAA violation, the disclosure of his dozen failed drug tests, his drug rehab stint and the emotional nadir of spending a night in jail after getting caught with weed in his possession created a caricature of the real Mathieu.
Unfortunately, Mathieu's redemptive rookie season came to an end on Sunday afternoon when Mathieu suffered a left leg injury that forced the rookie defensive back to board a cart that whisked him away into the gloomy abyss. Monday's bleak MRI news revealed Mathieu's destabilizing knee injury to be a torn ACL and LCL. The most disappointing aspect of Mathieu's season-ending injury is how it occurred. It wasn't during one of his captivating return, in defense of Tavon Austin or even during a funky well-coordinated big play celebration dance. After a safety free kick return, Mathieu jogged off the field only to have his knee buckle beneath him.
Mathieu's diagnosis was an expectedly sour note after a positive day that ended with a Cardinals win over the St. Louis Rams, inching them closer to a Wild Card playoff spot. The Cardinals defense has rounded into peak form over the second half of the season, including Sunday when they recorded a safety and returned a defensive touchdown to the comfortable confines of the Cardinals endzone during the rout of St. Louis. Mathieu's versatility, notably his ability to play safety in base defensive packages while moonlighting on the field as a corner in nickel and dime packages, as well as his nose for the ball, made him a favorite to win the NFL's Defensive Rookie of the Year award. In October, Mathieu was named Defensive Rookie of the Month after replacing safety Rashad Johnson, who lost the tip of his finger, as the starter. Since then, Mathieu has recorded two picks and amassed 63 tackles, second-best on the team. His fourth down stop of Lions receiver Nate Burleson one yard short of the first down in Week 2 clinched the Cardinals' first win of the season.
He is young and resilient. He'll recover emotionally and physically. Despite the injury to his knee, the Mathieu experiment in Arizona has thrown his tortured past into the shredding machine and spit out a new narrative. The kush jokes have wafted over to Denver's Von Miller or San Fran's Aldon Smith. Mathieu's rookie season was a success because the conversation around him is all about football. Mathieu reconstructed his image in Arizona. Now he's got to do the same with his left knee.