Patrick Mahomes had the kind of left ankle injury that would leave most of us looking for crutches and a bottle of pills. Mahomes didn’t even want an x-ray. He said afterwards that “everything is in God’s hands”, and because he was in pain, I will forgive him for referring to himself in the third person.
Mahomes left and came back, but the Chiefs are still here. They beat the rising Jaguars, 27-20, and added another pinch of legend to the Mahomes era. Now the Chiefs are heading into their fifth consecutive AFC Championship Game, a stunning achievement, and perhaps we can’t tell the full modern history of this franchise by focusing on one position in one game. But let’s try.
First: Mahomes. He’s only 27, which is worrying because some of us don’t have much to say about him anymore. Take everything you ever wanted in a quarterback, and a whole lot of things you never imagined possible, and here it is. He is one of the most physically talented players in history and one of the smartest and toughest players in the league. On Saturday, Mahomes earned a superlative no one had ever thought to hand out before: most likely to make plays when he can’t put pressure on his foot.
He cracked up afterwards: “Fortunately for me, I’m not in the right foot position all the time, so I’m able to do a few throws like that anyway”, and it was the nicest blend of things. self-mockery and boastfulness. Mahomes regularly shoots darts on the point when his feet are twisted or not even on the ground. So when he said “There were a few pitches here and there where I tried to plant this foot and it didn’t let me plant like I usually do” that was both true and a downside minor.
Second: Coach Andy Reid. Almost everyone who has worked with him describes him as a lovely person and a wizard as a game caller, and in this game he was both. First, Reid insisted that his franchise player get that x-ray. We shouldn’t give a man humane rewards for telling a lame employee to have an X-ray, but in professional football any show of restraint and care deserves recognition.
“I just wanted to keep playing,” Mahomes said. “I told him I would do it at halftime. But Coach, in my best interest, he made me go back there and do that x-ray before he got me back in the game.
Mahomes said in the training room: “They never show TV, man… I have to focus on myself and improve more than I have to focus on the game.”
While he was away, Chad Henne walked in. The Chiefs brought in Henne four years ago on a nearly $7 million salary, and he stayed on lower salaries because he loves the organization and it’s the best backup job in the sport. It comes with a chance to get a ring and a bucket of confidence from the head coach.
Henne entered with the Chiefs on their own 2-yard line, leading 10–7. Most coaches would play it scared: run, run, maybe go third and long, punt. It’s counterproductive. Reid sent Henne out with an empty backfield and implied orders to take the team into the field.
“You feel the rhythm and you kind of get that first down,” Henne said. “And you just go with the flow. And I think all the games that were coming, I felt confident.
Reid matched his attack to his save, which seems obvious but isn’t easy to do. Henne doesn’t get first-team reps during training: “Patrick is up there in attack, and we’re at the back doing the drops, doing our run readings as well,” Henne said of of himself and the other shifts. So we’re always in the back doing mental rehearsals. After practice, we get together with a few receivers and throw at them, not that they’re the starters.
Still, Reid put a lot of thought into what works best for Henne, who led Kansas City for 98 yards — the Chiefs passed seven times and ran five — and finished it with a touchdown pass d yard to Travis Kelce.
“They brought a bit of warmth every time he came to the game,” Mahomes said. “And he made some big throws and got us into the end zone. It was a big point of the game. »
Jacksonville responded with a field goal. But at halftime, the Chiefs were leading 17-10. Kansas City doctors told Mahomes nothing was broken, so as long as he could somehow walk on an injured ankle, he might as well be in a horrifically rough game, or something. Mahomes said he had his ankle sprained (a method of recording) and went home.
“I said to Coach, ‘I still want to throw him out there,'” Mahomes said.
He did, a little. He was clearly not himself; even as he left the field and the Chiefs fans in a high-five on his way to the locker room after the game, he was limping a bit. But Mahomes said, “You don’t want to let guys down. I don’t get out of a playoff game unless they take me out. I love this sport too much…” At least two teammates qualified him on Saturday as the “competitor par excellence”. The Chiefs signed him to a $450 million contract and struck a bargain.
The injury could have cost Kansas City, and it did so in small but ultimately inconsequential ways. Late in the game, as he tried to kill the clock, there was no threat of Mahomes making a moving play, and the Jaguars knew it. Isaiah Pacheco ran into the line and got stuffed.
In the end, however, the Chiefs got the quarterback game they needed. It’s not how they usually do it. But that’s what they almost always do.