They had their first meetings and first practice without the Honey Badger, who tore his ACL late in Sunday night’s win over the Philadelphia Eagles.
The Cardinals grieved the loss of Mathieu -- a Pro Bowl safety, emotional leader and all-around locker room favorite -- from the moment he went down on the turf at Lincoln Financial Field until they reported to work Wednesday. But when meetings began early Wednesday, the Cardinals had to focus. There was still a game to be played, still a scheme to prepare, still a Super Bowl to chase.
"The biggest thing you lose from him is he makes those splash plays, and his passion for the game is hard to replace,” said cornerback Justin Bethel, who will move to outside corner as Jerraud Powers slides into the slot to replace Mathieu. “We all got our hands in the pile. It’s just extra motivation now for us to go out there and win it all for him. He was having a great year. We wanted him to be a part of this.
“He’s definitely in our hearts now and we’re definitely out there playing for him.”
But life after Mathieu doesn’t mean life without him.
He was at Wednesday’s practice watching the team warm up and then helped with defensive backs drills by throwing passes as practice began. Powers spent time talking to Mathieu before Wednesday’s practice, telling the Honey Badger he still thinks Mathieu will be an All-Pro after finishing the season with a career-high 89 tackles and five interceptions, one of which returned for his first career touchdown.
Seeing Mathieu on the field or in the locker room has already affected some of his teammates. Quarterback Carson Palmer said Mathieu’s injury will leave an emotional hangover until the season ends.
“You hate to see it,” Palmer said. “It’s unsettling. It makes you feel sick to your stomach sometimes. But to see him out there and the attitude that he has, you don’t want to pity him. You don’t want to feel sorry for him, and he doesn’t want that.
“But he’s not moping around (with a) ‘woe is me’ attitude whatsoever. He’s the same Ty he was last Wednesday when he was full go, so that makes it easier just to not feel so bad about his situation.”
Powers has been looking at Mathieu’s second knee injury in two years as a blessing in disguise.
“I think it’s just a bigger purpose,” Powers said. “Everything happens for a reason. God works in mysterious ways. I think it’s just another stepping stone for him to be able to tell his story when it becomes ... even greater than what it is.”
The motivation to play for Mathieu is “real,” Powers said, especially since about 43 percent of the roster was on the Cardinals in 2013 when Mathieu tore his left ACL and LCL. They saw another promising season end prematurely and then watched Mathieu recover and rehab first-hand.
But it means even more to the secondary, all of whom except Deone Bucannon were on the roster in 2013.
“We definitely have a little extra motivation, especially in the secondary,” Powers said.
While Mathieu’s injury has been a source of inspiration this week, it’s not becoming a rallying cry for the rest of the season, Cardinals coach Bruce Arians said.
“I don’t think this team needs one,” he said. “The Super Bowl is the rallying cry.”