CINCINNATI (AP) — Robert Mathis might as well enjoy it.
The Colts linebacker will get to play the final preseason game on Thursday night against the Cincinnati Bengals at Paul Brown Stadium. Then he begins a four-game suspension for violating the NFL’s policy on performance-enhancing substances.
He claims he used a fertility drug to help his wife get pregnant.
The Colts (0-3) won’t be allowed to have any contact with Mathis while he’s suspended. They’re expecting him to stay in shape and be able to make an impact as soon as he returns.
“He knows that,” coach Chuck Pagano said. “We don’t even have to tell him that. I kid around, but he’s the one that made that decision.
“He’s got something to prove, something to give back to those guys. I’m not worried at all about how he’ll be once he returns.”
The Colts and Bengals (1-2) aren’t likely to play many of their starters on Thursday night. Both teams are mostly happy with how their starting units have looked in the first three preseason games.
“You try to build some momentum going into the first regular season game,” Bengals cornerback Terence Newman said. “I think we did a lot of good things on both offense and defense.”
The Bengals will be missing Pro Bowl linebacker Vontaze Burfict, who signed a three-year contract extension through 2017 on Wednesday. Burfict pulled his right hamstring during a preseason game in Arizona on Sunday, but expects to be ready for the season opener in Baltimore.
“It’s just around the corner,” Burfict said. “I’ll be ready.”
One of the questions in Cincinnati’s training camp was how the offense and defense would adapt to new coordinators. Hue Jackson took over the offense, installed a more up-tempo approach and saw pleasing results.
Andy Dalton completed 70.6 percent of his passes in the first three preseason games for 372 yards with one touchdown, no sacks and no interceptions, which equates to a passer rating of 116.3.
The starting defense, now coordinated by Paul Guenther, didn’t allow a touchdown in the first three games.
“I’m very pleased with both of our coordinators and where we are right now,” coach Marvin Lewis said. “Things have unfolded just as they described to the players. They’ve gained the credibility.”
The Colts will use the game to help them decide whether Mike Adams, Colt Anderson or Sergio Brown starts at safety opposite LaRon Landry.
Also, Pagano will be looking at how his inexperienced offensive linemen perform as he reconfigures things to accommodate left guard Donald Thomas’ injury. Thomas will miss the season with a torn thigh muscle.
“They’ve got to play,” Pagano said of the young linemen. “As much as you want to protect everybody, if you will, guys have got to play.”
Otherwise, the Colts feel good about an offense that was one of the NFL’s most dangerous with Andrew Luck.
“Anytime you have (Luck) behind center, it’s a good feeling,” tight end Coby Fleener said.