Patrick Mahomes suffered the kind of left ankle injury that would leave most of us reaching for crutches and a bottle of pills. Mahomes didn’t even want an X-ray. He then said that “it’s all in God’s hands.”
Mahomes left and came back, but the Chiefs are still here. They beat the surging Jaguars, 27–20, and added another bit of legend to the Mahomes era. The Chiefs are now headed to their fifth consecutive AFC Championship Game, an impressive feat, and we may not be able to tell the entire 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 disturbing because some of us don’t have much to say about the guy. Take everything you’ve always wanted in a quarterback, and a bunch of things you never dreamed possible, and here he is. He is one of the most physically gifted players in history i one of the smartest and toughest players in the league. On Saturday, Mahomes earned a superlative no one ever thought to hand out before: He’s more likely to make plays when he can’t put pressure on his foot.
Then he said, “Luckily for me, I’m not in the right foot position all the time, so I’m able to make some throws like that anyway,” and it was the nicest mix of self-deprecation and bragging. . Mahomes routinely fires darts on point when his feet are twisted or not even on the ground. So when he says “There were a couple of pitches here and there where I tried to plant that foot and it wouldn’t let me plant like I usually do,” that was true and a minor drawback.
Second: Coach Andy Reid. Almost everyone who has worked with him describes him as a lovable person and a wizard as a gamer, and in this game, he was both. First, Reid insisted that his franchise player take that X-ray. We shouldn’t give a man a humanitarian award for telling a limping employee to get 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 at halftime. But coach, in my best interest, had me go back there and get that X-ray before I got back into the game.”
Mahomes said in the training room, “They never show the TV, man. … I’ve got to focus on myself and get better more than just focusing on the game.”
While I was out, Chad Henne walked in. The Chiefs brought in Henne four years ago at a salary of nearly $7 million, and he’s stuck with lower salaries because he loves the organization and this is the best backup job in sports. It comes with a chance for a ring and a bucketload of confidence from the head coach.
Henne entered with the Chiefs at their own 2-yard line, leading 10–7. Most coaches would play it scared: run, run, may be pass on third and long, period. It is self-destructive. Reid sent Henne with an empty backfield and implicit orders to get the team out on the field.
“You feel the rhythm and you get it first,” Henne said. “And you just go with the flow. And I think every play that was coming, I felt confident.”
Reid ran his offense to his backup, which seems obvious but isn’t easy to do. Henne doesn’t get first-team reps during practice: “Patrick’s up there on offense, and we’re in the back there making drops, making our reads as well,” Henne said of himself and the other quarterbacks. So we’re always in the back doing mental replays. After practice, we get a couple of receivers and throw them, it’s not like they’re the starters.”
Still, Reid has put a lot of thought into what works best for Henne, who led Kansas City on a 98-yard drive — the Chiefs passed seven times and ran five — and capped it off with a touchdown pass one yard to Travis Kelce.
“They brought some heat every time I came to the game,” Mahomes said. “And he made some big throws and was able to put us in the end zone. It was an important point of the game.”
Jacksonville responded with a field goal. But at halftime, the Chiefs led 17–10. Doctors in Kansas City told Mahomes that nothing was broken, so as long as he could walk on an injured ankle, he might as well participate in a horribly violent game, or something. Mahomes said his ankle was spat on (a method of taping) and he went back inside.
“I told coach, ‘I still want to throw it on the field,'” Mahomes said.
It did, kind of. He was clearly not himself; even though he walked off the field and high-fived Chiefs fans toward the locker room after the game, he was limping a bit. But Mahomes said, “You don’t want to let the guys down. I’m not going to walk out of a playoff game unless they take me out. I love this sport too much…” At least two teammates on Saturday referred to him as “the ultimate competitor.”. The Chiefs signed him to a $450 million contract and got a bargain.
The injury could have cost Kansas City, and it did in a small but ultimately unimportant way. Late in the game, as he tried to kill the clock, he had no threat of Mahomes making a play on the move, and the Jaguars knew it. Isaiah Pacheco ran to the line and was stuffed.
Eventually, though, the Chiefs got the quarterback play they needed. This is not how they usually do it. But that’s what they almost always do.