MIAMI — Dwight Freeney can manage the pain, but he has little tolerance for how he tore ligaments in his right ankle in the first place.
The Indianapolis Colts star and most feared pass rusher in the NFL might miss Super Bowl XLIV because he finally showed mercy on a quarterback. Freeney suffered the injury trying to avoid Jets quarterback Mark Sanchez on Jan. 24, long after the outcome of the AFC Championship Game had been decided.
Freeney hasn't ruled out playing Sunday against the New Orleans Saints. But the NFL's sack leader since 2002 said he won't tap the brakes the next time he has a quarterback in his path.
"Next time I might have to take the 15-yard (roughing the passer penalty)," Freeney said Tuesday. "It's funny how it happens, with all the rules about avoiding the quarterback. Don't do this. Don't do that. Now it's so much built in you.
"I was going to hit him and said, 'All right, let me hold up on him. I don't know what's going to happen. It could be close.' It's a gray area. Because I avoided him, I actually ended up messing myself up. Maybe next time I won't."
Freeney, 29, walked to the podium in Sun Life Stadium during media day Tuesday wearing flip flops, and nothing on the most scrutinized athlete's ankle since Barbaro.
Freeney said it was still sore and swollen but has not decided whether to take an injection that could reduce the pain and allow him to play Sunday.
"I guess that's maybe a conversation me and the docs will have to have on Saturday, if it's even safe to do such a thing," he said.
One thing Freeney won't do this week is practice.
"Obviously, the competitor in me says there's nothing that's going to stop me from being out on that field," he said. "But that being said, you don't know what it's going to do come game time."
Freeney's injury, which normally takes 6-8 weeks to heal, is this game's biggest subplot because of his impact on a game. Since he was drafted eight years ago, Freeney leads the NFL (including playoff stats) in sacks (92), forced fumbles (38) and tackles for loss (119).
The Colts defense is built to apply pressure with their four down linemen. If Freeney can't play, defensive end Robert Mathis could move to right end and the Colts will need more from veteran Raheem Brock, who has 28.5 career sacks.
It also would mean the Saints won't have to help left tackle Jermon Bushrod with an extra blocker as much, leaving one more weapon to run pass routes for quarterback Drew Brees.
"I'm not going into this game thinking one of the best defensive ends in the league isn't going to play in the biggest game of the year," Bushrod said.
Freeney is doing everything he can to rehabilitate. He arrived in Miami on Friday, three days ahead of his teammates, to minimize the effect of swelling on the flight from Indianapolis. He has been sleeping with a stimulation machine on his ankle, and spending several hours a day in a hyperbaric chamber to increase oxygen flow.
But Freeney's success depends on his quickness and a devastating spin move, and the inability to pivot on that right ankle would greatly reduce his effectiveness.
"How is Dwight Freeney unique? He's just one heck of a football player," Colts quarterback Peyton Manning said. "I count my blessings every day that he is on my team and I don't have to have him rushing against me in a live practice.
"I can't tell you how many times in training camp that he runs right by me (on a pass rush) and he whispers, 'That would have hurt, that would have hurt.' It's a good little reminder. He's a guy you always want on your side."