MIAMI - Dwight Freeney knew something was wrong as soon as he felt the searing pain near the end of the Colts' AFC Championship Game win over the Jets. What he didn't know was how much his chances of playing in Super Bowl XLIV were jeopardized by his severely sprained right ankle.
Especially after seeing the ankle swell up to what he called "softball sized."
"The swelling was huge," said Freeney, who spoke publicly Tuesday for the first time since getting hurt. "It was softball sized. Now it's golf-ball sized."
It's still too early for Freeney to tell whether he'll be available to play against the Saints on Sunday. He hasn't practiced since suffering the injury, and there's a decent chance he won't do any work for the rest of the week.
"It'll come down to Friday, Saturday or Sunday," he said. "Right now, it doesn't feel the best, but every day is different. I've seen some great progress so far."
Freeney has proven to be a quick healer in the past, but he's not sure about this one. "I keep on working at it, and hopefully it will be OK," he said. "Mentally, it's all positive, but there's still a long way to go physically. I just take it day by day. Every day, I wake up, and reassess where it is. If we find out it's feeling good on Saturday, so be it."
If Freeney can't make it, Raheem Brock is ready to step in.
"Dwight is a great player, and you really can't replace him," Brock said of Freeney, who led the Colts with 13½ sacks in the regular season. "We won't change our strategy much if Freeney can't play, but we'll have to pick it up a little.
"We've been in this situation before, me and Robert [Mathis] picked up the slack,'' Brock said.
It also helps that the Colts have become more of a blitzing team under first-year defensive coordinator Larry Coyer. Instead of relying on a four-man rush, as former coach Tony Dungy preferred when he used the cover 2 scheme, Coyer is a more attack-oriented play-caller. So even if Freeney can't play, the Colts still will have a formidable pass rush.
"We used to sit back and play cover 2 and let everybody throw down the field," Brock said. "But we can attack from different angles now. You never know where guys are attacking from."
Of course, the Colts prefer Freeney, even with a bad wheel.
"I've had injuries before where I've had to tweak my game to protect it," Freeney said. "It's just a matter of having to freestyle it during the game. So I don't need to be 100 percent. I can make some adjustments if I have to."
He hopes he'll get that chance. In the meantime, he spends most of his waking hours in the trainer's room.
"It's been pretty boring," he said. "Other than eating and sleeping, 99 percent of my time has been treating this injury. I haven't gotten a chance to take in all the events, but that's not important to me. Be able to play is what matters."
Freeney was asked if perhaps there would be a Willis Reed comeback, like the one the former Knicks center made for Game 7 of the 1970 NBA Finals against the Lakers. Reed, who missed Game 6 because of a torn thigh muscle, hobbled onto the court to a thunderous ovation and helped lead the Knicks to victory.
"Someone told me about him," Freeney said. "I guess he was hurt and the first time the fans saw him, he was coming out of the tunnel."
A similar moment on Sunday? Too soon to tell.
"It's the only thing that matters," Freeney said. "My hope is that I'm out there."