Cardinals safety Tyrann Mathieu is out for the season after tearing his ACL.
Bruce Arians' voice cracked more than once as he delivered the news Monday: Safety Tyrann Mathieu had torn the anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee Sunday night in Philadelphia, ending the Honey Badger's all-pro-type season.
"We have a little different bond, just because of where he came from, where I came from," Arians said. "I've just gotten real attached to him.
"I love the player but I love the person more."
Mathieu got hurt on what was his fifth interception of the season, tying him for the team lead with fellow safety Rashad Johnson. As he came down and planted on his right leg, it buckled, and Mathieu immediately went down. Johnson said it was probably good that players are off until Wednesday, allowing them to digest what is emotional news not just for Mathieu and Arians but a secondary that is as tight-knit of a unit as it can be.
"We're losing a brother and he's more than just that to this team, and this organization," Johnson said. "He's a lifeline, he's
an emotional leader. He plays with the passion and fire that we need every Sunday. When he's on the field, you know there is a different level of energy because of what this guy brings to the table. We're going to miss that. We all have to elevate our game."
Mathieu tore the ACL and LCL in his left knee in 2013. Coming back from that injury kept him from fulfilling his potential in 2014, and Mathieu was driven for his self-described "savage season" this year to prove to all – and himself – greatness was still in his future.
"He set goals and he was attaining them," Arians said. "I thought he should be right there with Pat (Peterson) for defensive player of the year. I don't think there was any doubt. It's a shame with two games left."
Arians said Mathieu was initially relieved because he was able to walk around just fine.
"He's still walking fine and it's just that the MRI says differently," Arians added.
Arians said Mathieu will likely wait a couple of weeks before the inevitable swelling goes down before he has surgery. Then the rehab process will start. Arians has no worry that Mathieu will rehab in time to be ready for the 2016 season.
Mathieu tweeted out a bible verse Monday afternoon: "That is why, for Christ's sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong."
The website profootballfocus.com had Mathieu as their top-rated cornerback in the NFL this season – the site decided since he
played the majority of snaps in the slot, he'd be a cornerback, although Arians insisted last week Mathieu only plays safety – with a cumulative grade of 28.1. Carolina's Josh Norman, who is having a stellar season, is second at a distant 14.2.
PFF lists Mathieu has the highest-graded cornerback in run defense and as a pass rusher as well.
But those subjective grades are one thing. What Mathieu brings to the Cardinals, in many ways, are the intangibles. A passionate player and emerging leader, Mathieu was in many ways the heart and soul of the Cardinals' defense.
The NFC West title won Sunday night was "very bittersweet when you lose a guy like Ty," Arians said. Quarterback Carson Palmer, knowing Mathieu's situation was probably not good, used the same term after the game Sunday.
"We have new motivation," cornerback Patrick Peterson tweeted. "Do it for No. 32."
Safety Tony Jefferson said in a text Mathieu was deserving of the defensive player of the year discussion.
"He came into 2015 with a mindset to kill the game and from a teammate's standpoint, you're going to miss that," Jefferson said. "But as a brother, you hurt for him, very deeply. In reality, though, we've been here before. Time to step up. This will definitely be dedicated to my brother."
Mathieu was third on the team with 89 tackles, with a sack, the five interceptions and a team-best 16 pass deflections.
Arians said cornerback Jerraud Powers will move into the nickel cornerback role that Mathieu played, and Justin Bethel is expected to get more work at cornerback outside. At safety, the Cards hope to get Johnson back this week from an ankle injury – Johnson said he should be OK -- and they have Jefferson and newcomer D.J. Swearinger as well.
"We go to work Wednesday," Arians said. "Nothing's changed. They're not going to cancel the games."
Johnson agreed with the sentiment. The Cardinals are still 12-2 and in a good spot for the postseason. And the team, after 2014, certainly understands the next man up mentality.
"It's no different than the life struggles we go through every day," Johnson said. "Some of us have family members in hospitals or going through different things. But when we come to work we find a way to put that stuff aside and focus on the job at hand.
"This is only going to give us more fire. We knew where we wanted to go, we knew where we were headed, and with Ty not with us, it's going to drive us every day to make sure we get it done and do everything we can for him."
Mathieu wasn't the only player injured Sunday night. Arians said defensive tackle Josh Mauro, who played well against the Eagles, will likely miss at least a game with a calf injury. …
Arians said Palmer is fine after he hurt his finger on this throwing hand. Arians said Palmer's finger was "popped back in" and taped up. ...
Arians said he wasn't sure if the Cardinals will make a roster move in the secondary, although it's inevitable the Cards will put Mathieu on injured reserve in order to add a player to the 53-man roster. ...
Running back Andre Ellington could return this week, Arians said. The Cardinals are trying to find a shoe that is comfortable enough with which to play while Ellington deals with a turf toe injury.
Top images from the Cardinals' 40-17 win over the Eagles on Sunday night