Tyrann Mathieu isn't letting 'splash plays' define him anymore

SUNBURY-ON-THAMES, England -- When Tyrann Mathieu was at the top of his game -- before his second knee injury, when he was at the heart of the conversation for the 2015 NFL Defensive Player of the Year -- the splash play consumed him.

If he didn't get one, he'd get in his own head.

"It would have definitely taken me out of my game," Mathieu said. "But I've got a great group of guys around me. I think, ultimately, my teammates believe in me and at the end of the day, that's all that really matters."

Now, as Mathieu continues the journey to return to his old Honey Badger self, splash plays have become less of a priority. He doesn't stress his stats. He's not as concerned if he doesn't land the big sack or game-changing interception.

He's content letting the opportunities to make the splash plays come to him.

"I'm just trying to play consistent, not really worrying about splash plays or how my stat sheet may look right now because in the end, I feel like I'm going to have five or more interception, I'm going to have 80 or more tackles," Mathieu said. "It's just about me playing well in critical situations -- third-and-2s, where I know I'm going to get pick routes; third-and-longs, where I know guys are going to double-move me.

"So, it's about me just playing well in critical situations."

Arizona Cardinals coach Bruce Arians thinks Mathieu is as healthy as he was two years ago, when he finished the 2015 season with his second ACL injury of his career. But Arians doesn't think Mathieu is playing like that version of the Honey Badger. As to why, Arians thinks it's probably related to Mathieu's confidence.

That confidence, Mathieu said, comes with making those splash plays -- the plays he's been making since he was 5 years old.

"Those plays will come," Mathieu said.

He admitted Thursday that he's struggled at times this season, giving up a few third downs and owning up to "lapses" against the Dallas Cowboys in Week 3. But Mathieu knows the first splash play he makes will make people forget about his issues on third down.

"I've just got to play more consistent in critical situations," Mathieu said.

While not worrying about making splash plays may be a new mindset, Mathieu said he's "consistently challenging" himself to be in position to make those plays. He has yet to grade lower than a B in a game this season, but he hasn't gotten an A because he's not making the splash plays.

The need to figure out what teams will do in "critical situations" has been a priority for Mathieu this year.

"I'm my biggest critic," Mathieu said. "My coaches challenge me. Obviously, B.A. challenges me a bunch. I just have to be more consistent, more understanding of how teams want to attack me."