The Mahomes took their 1-year-old daughter, Sterling. “Kiss me?” She said and he smiled as she did.
A big man came up and told the quarterback he played a good game. “Nice to meet you!” Mahomes shouted. “I’ve heard many stories.” He passed a teenager who seemed too shy to ask for a picture, hugging a woman who claimed to be my mother.
“are you ok?” The kid asked the injured right ankle quarterback to deliver an MVP-worthy performance in the Kansas City Chiefs’ 27-20 win over the Jacksonville Jaguars in the AFC playoffs.
Mahomes nodded; X-rays were negative. Mahomes told reporters he expects to be “ready to go” for next week’s AFC Championship Game, but coach Andy Reid was more measured at a news conference, saying it was difficult to put Mahomes in his previous position given the intensity of the competition. Damage. Reid Mahomes appears to be hoping to play against Cincinnati (at Kansas City) or Buffalo (at Atlanta) but has declined to commit to starting him. Backup Chad Henne played well with Mahomes briefly sidelined, leading a 12-play, 98-yard touchdown drive.
Amid the excitement on Saturday night, as Mahomes helped Kansas City to its fifth consecutive AFC Championship game, there was also anxiety. Mahomes, who was on one ankle, was enough to beat the upstart Jaguars quarterback Trevor Lawrence. But will he have a similar performance next week against a more consistent opponent — the Bengals’ Joe Burrow or the Bills’ Josh Allen?
“Fortunately we were a Saturday afternoon game,” Mahomes said. “I’ll have an extra half day to rest the ankle.”
“If it’s up to Pat, we know he’s going to be in there,” tight end Travis Kelce, who finished with 14 carries, 98 yards and two touchdowns. He praised Henne’s preparation and inconsistency. “Chad has been nothing but the best he can be through it all.”
Before the injury, Mahomes was having a bumper season. He was methodical, leading the Jaguars’ defense on a quick throw to a second-and-five that covered two defenders on a sideline throw for a 13-yard touchdown. “Ooooo!” He reassured the crowd that he never seemed to tire of his magic.
But on the Chiefs’ second drive, as Mahomes stepped up in the pocket, Jaguars linebacker Arden Key launched himself at Mahomes’ upper body. Key didn’t wrap his arms around Mahomes, so Key slid down, and most of his 240 pounds landed on Mahomes’ right ankle, which bent back. the quarterback yelled.
Bosses took some time. Mahomes ran to the bench, and a trainer quickly and heavily taped his right ankle. The very next play, Reid called for a handoff to running back Jerick McKinnon, but even as he ran out of the exchange, Mahomes looked nervous. On the next three plays, Reid managed the damage — another run, two quick throws — but on third-and-three, he called a layup pass. The top of the pocket opened up, creating a hole Mahomes would normally run into for the first time, but this time, when he took off, it was too slow.
Near the line of scrimmage, Mahomes saw a defender closing in and tried to throw the ball, but it slipped out of his hands and landed a few yards away — and Mahomes appeared unathletic on the short list of things he’s done on the football field. Kansas City settled for a field goal and a 10-7 lead.
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On the sideline, Reed approached Mahomes. The quarterback urged the coach not to take him out. The coach told the quarterback they wouldn’t put him back in until the X-rays came back negative. Mahomes took off his heavy jacket and hit him in the side before running to the locker room.
In his stead, Reid coined by Hen. The reserve had come on for the Chiefs in key moments earlier, but was immediately challenged. The Jaguars pinned the Chiefs at the 2-yard line.
Jacksonville blitzed Hein twice on his first five passes, seemingly hoping to shake him. But the 37-year-old remained calm and made quick decisions, firing several short passes to Kelsey. Mahomes stood with his helmet and jacket on as the Chiefs marched into the end zone, covered by a one-yard catch by Kelce to give them a 17-7 lead.
After the break, Mahomes warmed up briefly and connected with center Creed Humphrey. Mahomes has told his coaches that he is changing his footwork on some plays from the middle to reduce stress on his ankle. Instead of going down away from Humphrey, turning on his right ankle, he does it mostly with his left.
After the return, Mahomes ran back to lead the Chiefs’ huddle as the fans roared. But Mahomes kept his hands down for silence.
From the first play, another run, it was clear Mahomes wasn’t right. Still, he scrambled for four yards on third-and-one.
“He told me he was fine,” Reid said.
But the offense scored twice and kicked a field goal to take a 20-10 lead.
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Jacksonville failed to capitalize. Coach Doug Pederson had a conservative game plan, including plenty of first-down runs and swing passes. Lawrence tossed a dime about 50 yards in the air, but star wide receiver Christian Kirk dropped it. In the third quarter, aside from the bomb, Lawrence’s average depth of target was just 2.91 yards.
In the fourth quarter, Pederson became more aggressive, and Lawrence offered. The Jaguars cut their lead to 20-17 with 11:49 left on Travis Etienne’s four-yard touchdown run.
Kansas City, the closest thing the NFL has to a dynasty, appears to be in jeopardy. Mahomes was reeling, and the Jaguars looked poised for another miraculous comeback.
But on the next possession, Mahomes delivered one of the best plays of his career. Reid trusted him, calling five of the first six plays, and Mahomes sliced through the Jaguars with short, sharp cuts. He threw a 16-yard dart to JuJu Smith-Schuster on the left side.
“I missed some throws that I think I could’ve made if I’d actually been in position on my right foot,” Mahomes said with a smile. “But luckily for me, I’m not always on the right foot, so I can make shots like that.”
Following three straight runs, Mahomes fired a six-yard dash to Marquez Valdes-Scantling for a 27-17 lead.
Mahomes’ celebrated career was one of the most remarkable. He put the game away enough that, when the Jaguars rallied late, it proved insufficient. Even on one ankle, he showed his strength and ability: After the injury, Mahomes completed 12 of 18 passes for 118 yards and one touchdown.
Inside the stadium, as Mahomes ran back to the bench, the crowd chanted “You gotta fight!” with the Beastie Boys. For your rights! To parrrrrrr-ty!”
The words are more true than ever.