Knee sprain leaves end doubtful at best

Barring a miraculous, and unexpected, recovery, the Indianapolis Colts will be without standout situational pass rusher Robert Mathis for Sunday's divisional-round game with the New England Patriots at Gillette Stadium.

One-half of the NFL's most prolific sack tandem, Mathis suffered a sprained knee ligament very late in last Sunday's wild-card rout of the Denver Broncos, and the second-year veteran is listed as "doubtful" on the NFL's official injury report.

By definition, that means there is only a 25 percent chance that Mathis will play. In truth, however, the odds may be even slimmer than that, and Indianapolis does not expect him to be available. It is not known whether Mathis could play in the AFC Championship Game on Jan. 23, should Indianapolis win at Foxboro on Sunday.

"I don't know how long he'll be out," Colts team president Bill Polian said. "He's a fast healer, but he's certainly a force and it's difficult not to have him."

Mathis, 23, registered 10˝ sacks during the regular season, the 13th most in the league. With the NFL-best 16 sacks posted by right end Dwight Freeney, the Colts had the top sack duet in the league. Certainly the pair composed an effective upfield tandem that brought considerable pressure from the defensive edges.

A fifth-round choice in the 2003 draft, Mathis is the kind of undersized but extremely quick lineman that Colts coach Tony Dungy prefers. At only about 240 pounds, he still plays with natural leverage and, in his second season, began to develop techniques that go beyond just his innate physical qualities.

It should be noted, though, that in his last six games, including the playoff victory over the Broncos, he had just one sack. Mathis has only 2˝ sacks in his last eight outings.

The absence of Mathis will force the Colts to shuffle their "nickel" pass rush package. In the third-down front Indianapolis uses most often, Mathis aligns at left end. Starting left end Raheem Brock then moves inside to tackle. Indianapolis might now use Brock outside, or might slide Brad Scioli or recently signed Nick Rogers into Mathis' left end spot.

Len Pasquarelli is a senior NFL writer for ESPN.com. To check out Len's chat archive, click hereInsider.