Can Mathis still be a dominating pass-rusher without Freeney?
How much did Freeney help Mathis become a Pro Bowl player?
Mathis started answering those questions when he became just the 30th player in league history to record at least 100 career sacks after he got to Seattle's Russell Wilson in Week 5.
Then, in front of a Lucas Oil Stadium crowd, Mathis moved past Freeney in the team's record books.
Mathis became the team's all-time leader for sacks in a single season (16.5) and career (108) when he beat Houston Texans left tackle Duane Brown for a sack of quarterback Case Keenum in the third quarter of the Colts' 25-3 victory. It was only fitting that Mathis set the record with one of his trademark strip sacks.
"I enjoyed it to the utmost," Mathis said. "Never take it for granted because it is such an accomplishment. It's just still unbelievable. Just happy to have it."
Mathis needed a bounce-back game after the Cincinnati Bengals shut him down on Dec. 8. It took almost three quarters, but Mathis is too good of a player not to get involved after the Colts' defense was shutting Houston's offense down and already had intercepted two Case Keenum passes in the first half.
The Texans had the ball at their own 7-yard line when Brown kept Mathis away from Keenum for three seconds, but the Colts linebacker wasn't going to be stopped. Mathis got by Brown on the fourth second and ripped the ball out of Keenum's hands. Brown fell on the ball in the end zone. Mathis was given the ball and then acknowledged the crowd for giving him an ovation.
"Duane Brown is a very good O-tackle," Mathis said. "He's a very strong guy. Just had to stay with it and saw the quarterback roll out and was able to get to him. That was about it. Just make a play for the team."
Mathis will have to make room in his locker to put the ball next to the hundred dollar bill he has framed in there signifying his 100th sack.
Sitting at the top of the team's record books signals how far Mathis has come in his career after being told he wasn't talented enough and that he was too small to play in the NFL after coming out Alabama A&M, which was a NCAA Division I-AA school when he played there in 2003.
But Mathis has continued to prove the naysayers wrong. He did it while playing with Freeney, and now he's doing it even more without him.
"He should be, in my opinion and probably everybody else's opinion that's certainly a Colts fan and part of this organization, in the conversation someday to be in the Hall of Fame I would think," Colts coach Chuck Pagano said. "Doing what he's done for as long a period that he's done and the records that he has, who knows? We'll see. He's got my vote. I don't have one, but he's got it anyway."
Mathis doesn't plan on calling it quits anytime soon, so his next possible honor could be defensive player of the year.
That wouldn't be too bad for a player very few thought could give opposing quarterbacks nightmares.
"It's a bit surreal," Colts quarterback Andrew Luck said. "He's everything you could ask for in a leader, a locker room guy, in a veteran, the example he sets, his work ethic. He's one of those guys that all the great things that happen, he deserves because he puts the work in. He does go the extra mile for it."