Patrick Mahomes had the kind of injury to his left ankle that would send most of us reaching for crutches and a bottle of pills. Mahomes didn’t even want an X-ray. He said afterward that “everything is in God’s hands,” and because he was in pain, I’ll forgive him for referring to himself in the third person.
Mahomes left and came back, but the Chiefs are still here. They beat the surging Jaguars, 27–20, and added another sprinkling of legend to the Mahomes era. Now, the Chiefs are on their way to their fifth straight AFC Championship game, an amazing feat, and perhaps we can’t tell the entire modern story of this franchise by focusing on one position in one game. But let’s try.
First: Mahomes. He’s only 27, which is troubling because some of us don’t have much left to say about the guy. Take everything you ever wanted in a quarterback, and a bunch of things you never dreamed possible, and here he 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 has ever thought to hand out before: Most likely to play when he can’t put pressure on his foot.
He cracked afterwards: “Luckily for me, I’m not in the right footing all the time, so I manage to make a few throws like that anyway,” and it was the most beautiful mix of self-deprecation and boasting. Mahomes routinely shoots darts when his feet are twisted or not even on the ground. So when he says “There were a couple of throws here and there where I tried to plant off my foot and it wouldn’t let me plant like I usually do,” it was both true and a bit of a bummer.
Second: Coach Andy Reid. Almost everyone who has worked with him describes him as a lovable person and a wizard as a toy caller, and in this game he was both. At first, Reid insisted that his franchise player get that X-ray. We shouldn’t give a man any humanitarian honors for asking a limping employee to take an X-ray, but in pro football, any kind of restraint and care deserves recognition.
“I just wanted to keep playing,” Mahomes said. “I told him I would do it at half-time. But coach, in my best interest, he made me go back there and get that X-ray before he put me back in the game.”
Mahomes said in the practice room, “They never show the TV, man … I’ve got to focus on myself and get better more than focusing on the game.”
While he was out, Chad Henne entered. The Chiefs brought Henne in four years ago with a salary of nearly $7 million, and he has stuck with a lower salary because he loves the organization and this is the best backup job in the sport. It comes with a chance at a ring and a bucket of confidence from the head coach.
Henne entered with the Chiefs at their own 2-yard line, leading 10–7. Most coaches played scared there: run, run, may be watch out for third-and-long, punt. It is self-destructive. Reid sent Henne out with an empty backfield and implicit orders to take the team down the field.
“You know the rhythm and you kind of get it first first,” Henne said. “And you just go with the flow. And I think all the plays that came in, I felt confident in.”
Reid took his offense to his backup, which sounds obvious, but isn’t easy to actually do. Henne doesn’t get first-team reps during practice: “Patrick’s up there on offense, and we’re in the back doing drops, and doing our run reads, too,” Henne said of himself and the other quarterbacks. So we are always in the back doing mental reps. After practice, we bring in a couple of receivers and we throw to them – not that they’re the starters.”
Still, Reid has given a lot of thought to 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 with a one-yard touchdown pass to Travis Kelce.
“They brought some heat every time he came to the game,” Mahomes said. “And he made some big throws and was able to get us into the end zone. It was a big point in the game.”
Jacksonville answered 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 fight, or something like that. Mahomes said he got splattered on his ankle (a method of taping) and went back in.
“I told Coach, ‘I still want to throw it down the field,'” Mahomes said.
He did, a little. He was clearly not himself; even as he left the field and high-fived Chiefs fans on his way to the locker room after the game, he had a slight limp. But Mahomes said, “You don’t want to let the guys down. I’m not getting out of a playoff game unless they take me out. I love this sport too much…” At least two teammates referred to him Saturday as “the ultimate competitor.” The Chiefs signed him to a $450 million contract and made a bargain.
The injury could have cost Kansas City, and it did in small but ultimately insignificant ways. Late in the game, when it tried to kill the clock, it had no threat of Mahomes making plays on the run, and the Jaguars knew it. Isaiah Pacheco ran into the line and was stuffed.
Ultimately, the Chiefs got the quarterback play they needed. That’s not how they usually do it. But that’s what they pretty much always do.