The Kansas City Chiefs won a Divisional Round playoff game. They return to the AFC Championship game. There won’t be much of a party.
Part of the reason is that the Chiefs are used to making the NFL’s last four. It is their fifth consecutive appearance in the AFC Championship game. But mostly, it’s because everyone in Kansas City will be talking about Patrick Mahomes’ ankle for eight days.
Mahomes suffered what would have been a sprained ankle in Saturday’s 27-20 win over the Jacksonville Jaguars, an injury that often takes weeks to heal. Mahomes missed a series and returned to play. But everyone saw Mahomes hobble on a bad ankle, even jumping off the field in pain after a huge touchdown pass in the fourth quarter. Kansas City may have blown the Jaguars with a healthy Mahomes for four quarters, but with Mahomes struggling to get his injured ankle out of the way with precision, Jacksonville was in the game until the fourth quarter. Mahomes is the NFL’s MVP, the best quarterback in the game and even though he’s at 75%, he’s better than almost everyone in the league. That’s why he was in the second half despite the injury. And the Chiefs’ decision was rewarded when Mahomes put in a big drive, capped off with a touchdown pass to Marques Valdes-Scantling, after the Jaguars cut the Chiefs’ lead to 20-17 in the fourth quarter. It was an impressive moment.
But next Sunday night, the Chiefs will face either Joe Burrow of the Cincinnati Bengals or Josh Allen of the Buffalo Bills, two of the few quarterbacks close to Mahomes’ class. Mahomes will undoubtedly start the AFC Championship game. But there will be some concern about its effectiveness.
Patrick Mahomes injured early
The Chiefs are built differently than almost everyone else. This is because there is only one Mahomes for everyone.
Kansas City are average on defense and aside from Travis Kelce, they have a small group of skill-positioned players. It does not matter. Mahomes and coach Andy Reid are two all-time greats, and they cover it all. We saw him early in the Jaguars game, when he put on a few jaw-dropping plays in the first quarter, including a ridiculous jump pass, on the verge of giving the Chiefs a 7-0 lead.
That’s why Mahomes’ injury projection is so important. When your operation is so heavily dependent on one player, a key injury to that player changes everything.
Mahomes was knocked down by Jaguars linebacker Arden Key, with Key landing on Mahomes’ right ankle. Mahomes limped off for a while before the Chiefs sent him back to the locker room for X-rays.
There was a key moment in the game when Mahomes was back in the locker room. The Jaguars downed a punt at the 2-yard line. Chad Henne came on. The Jaguars had a chance to knock the Chiefs off the field and get a good field position in a 10-7 game. Instead, Henne and the running game led the Chiefs downfield for a 98-yard drive, capped by a Travis Kelce touchdown catch.
When Mahomes returned for the start of the second half, the attack was not the same. The Chiefs pitched twice in a row to start the second half after not pitching once before halftime. It was obvious Mahomes was in pain. But the Jaguars couldn’t take full advantage of it.
Chiefs Defense Comes Big
The Chiefs defense came through when needed. This was not going to be a game in which Mahomes and the offense scored 40 points. Kansas City was facing a hot quarterback in Trevor Lawrence and did well to limit the Jaguars offense.
The Jaguars got an early touchdown pass to Christian Kirk to tie the game 7-7, but Lawrence didn’t do much else for three quarters. Kansas City got a field goal late in the third quarter and led 20-10.
The Jaguars responded. Jacksonville had its best drive since the first quarter and Travis Etienne Jr. scored a 4-yard touchdown to cut the Chiefs’ lead to 20-17.
Mahomes had a huge workout after that and made a signature play. He had a jump pass on that bad ankle for a touchdown pass to Valdes-Scantling for a 27-17 lead. Mahomes jumped off the field after that play, his ankle clearly hurting. This drive and landing will add to Mahomes’ growing legacy. Mahomes battled through a brutal injury and delivered when the Chiefs were in danger of an upset.
The Jaguars had a small chance after that when they rolled inside the Chiefs 10-yard line, but Jamal Agnew fumbled after a catch inside the 5, the Chiefs recovered with 5:29 to do and it practically put the game aside. When the Jaguars got the ball back, Chiefs cornerback Jaylen Watson took a forced pass from Lawrence. The Jaguars got a late field goal but couldn’t recover the kick in play.
Mahomes deserves credit for his tenacity and driving the Chiefs on a key fourth-quarter touchdown when they needed it. But the Chiefs don’t shy away from winning division games. Next week’s injury reports will go a long way in determining whether they go to another Super Bowl.
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