Cardinals safety Tyrann Mathieu has missed four of the past five games, but hopes to return Sunday against the Saints.
Tyrann Mathieu pondered the question for a moment, seeking the one word he'd use to describe his season.
"I would say frustrating?" Mathieu said, not sure if that encapsulated his feelings.
"Yeah," he added, this time with conviction. "Frustrating."
It'd be hard for the safety, an all-pro in 2015 even though he suffered a late-season ACL tear, to call 2016 anything else. Coming back from his ACL injury, the knee never cost him any playing time, but it robbed him of the abilities that made him excellent the previous season. Then he hurt his shoulder against Carolina, sidelining him four of the past five games.
Mathieu finally has returned to practice this week, albeit limited, and the hope is that he can play Sunday. The
opponent is the Saints, from Mathieu's hometown of New Orleans.
"I know a ton of people back home who will be watching," Mathieu said. "You just want to make some plays."
Mathieu has to play first. Mathieu tried to play with the bad shoulder against the Falcons, but wasn't comfortable and went back to the sidelines the past two weeks. He still isn't committing to play against the Saints.
Mathieu's strength is returning and his range of motion is better, but he still isn't sure how he will be able to get off blocks or react after hitting the ground and "none of those things can really be simulated, except in a game."
He wants to play, though, because he has tired of watching practice through the windows of the weight room.
"Everyone knows what a playmaker he is (and) how well he played last year when he was healthy," defensive coordinator James Bettcher said. "I want him to get back to that level, because I know how much he cares, and I know how much he loves the game."
And perhaps to shed some of the frustration that is evident to those around him.
"You can definitely tell he's frustrated because he has yet to play a full season," cornerback Patrick Peterson said.
"Especially coming off the contract extension and you have so many doubters, 'Can he finally finish a season?' That can take a toll on someone.
"The best part is hopefully he can get back on the field this week and have the chance to finish the season. He's missed time that I know he wishes he could have back, but it's a physical sport and he plays the game very violently."
The Cardinals don't just miss Mathieu's on-field presence and the statistics that are nowhere near last season. It's off the field too, where Mathieu is a leader in the locker room and the meeting room, Bettcher said.
"Those things are invaluable when you look at it as a defensive coordinator," Bettcher said.
Last week, coach Bruce Arians said surgery was discussed for Mathieu but that the safety likely wasn't going to have it. With the Saints game looming, it made sense that Mathieu would at least try one more time to get back on the field.
When Tyvon Branch suffered a season-ending groin tear in Miami, Mathieu again realized he was needed. Besides, shutting it down for the season didn't sit well with him.
"I'm not that kind of guy," Mathieu said. "I've heard stories of guys like that. I don't think I'm that guy. We've got three games left and I hope to be on the field for the last three."
Images of running back David Johnson's first career touchdown to clinch last year's win over New Orleans