The Kansas City Chiefs won a divisional round playoff game. They are going back to the AFC championship game. There won't be a lot of celebration.
Part of the reason is the Chiefs are used to advancing to the NFL's final four. It's their fifth straight trip to the AFC championship game. But mostly it's because all anyone in Kansas City will be talking about for eight days is Patrick Mahomes' ankle.
Mahomes suffered what was reported to be a high ankle sprain in Saturday's 27-20 win over the Jacksonville Jaguars, an injury that often takes weeks to heal. Mahomes missed one series and did come back in to play. But everyone saw Mahomes hobbling around on a bad ankle, even hopping off the field in pain after a huge touchdown pass in the fourth quarter. Kansas City might have blown out the Jaguars with a healthy Mahomes for four quarters, but with Mahomes struggling to throw accurately off his injured plant ankle, Jacksonville was in the game until late.
Mahomes is the NFL MVP and best quarterback in the game, and even if he's 75 percent he's better than just about everyone else in the league. That's why he was in during the second half despite the injury. And the Chiefs' decision was rewarded when Mahomes came up with a big drive, capped by a touchdown pass to Marquez 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 are going to face either Joe Burrow of the Cincinnati Bengals or Josh Allen of the Buffalo Bills, two of the few quarterbacks who are close to Mahomes' class. "I'll be good to go," Mahomes told NBC on Saturday about starting the AFC championship game. But there will be some concern over how effective he'll be.
Patrick Mahomes injured early
The Chiefs are built differently than just about everyone else. That's because there's only one Mahomes to go around.
Kansas City is average on defense and aside from Travis Kelce they have a thin group of skill-position players. It doesn't matter. Mahomes and coach Andy Reid are two all-time greats, and they cover everything up. We saw that early in the Jaguars game, when he made a few breathtaking plays in the first quarter, including a ridiculous jump pass, on the way to giving the Chiefs an early 7-0 lead.
That's why the projection of Mahomes' injury is such a big deal. When your operation depends so heavily on one player, a key injury to that player changes everything.
Mahomes was brought down by Jaguars linebacker Arden Key, with Key landing on Mahomes' right ankle. Mahomes limped around 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 entered the game. The Jaguars had a chance to get the Chiefs off the field and get 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 came back for the start of the second half, the offense wasn't the same. The Chiefs punted twice in a row to start the second half after not punting once before halftime. It was obvious Mahomes was hurting. But the Jaguars couldn't fully take advantage.
Chiefs defense comes up big
The Chiefs defense came up big when it had to. This wasn't going to be a game in which Mahomes and the offense put up 40 points. Kansas City was facing a hot quarterback in Trevor Lawrence, and did well to limit the Jaguars offense.
The Jaguars got a touchdown pass early to Christian Kirk to tie the game 7-7 but Lawrence didn't do much else through three quarters. Kansas City kicked a field goal late in the third quarter and led 20-10.
The Jaguars answered back. 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 drive 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 hopped off the field after that play, with his ankle clearly hurting. That drive and touchdown will add to Mahomes' growing legacy. Mahomes battled through a rough injury and delivered when the Chiefs were in danger of being upset.
The Jaguars had a small chance after that when they drove inside the Chiefs' 10-yard line, but Jamal Agnew fumbled after a catch inside the 5. The Chiefs recovered with 5:29 to go and that practically put the game away. When the Jaguars got the ball back, Chiefs cornerback Jaylen Watson picked off a forced pass by Lawrence.
The Jaguars got a late field goal but couldn't recover the onside kick.
Mahomes deserves credit for his toughness and leading the Chiefs on a key touchdown drive in the fourth quarter when they needed it. But the Chiefs aren't worried about winning divisional round games. The injury reports over the next week will go a long way in determining if they're going to another Super Bowl.