Super Bowl 2024: Without Isiah Pacheco, Chiefs might not be back in the Super Bowl

HENDERSON, Nev. — This Kansas City Chiefs run will always be associated with Patrick Mahomes and a record-setting passing offense.

But this Chiefs team needed Isiah Pacheco to make Super Bowl LVIII.

With the Chiefs' offense struggling to match its usual standard, Kansas City loaded Pacheco with more snaps and more carries. He responded, just like he did last postseason. His streak of playoff games with 75 yards from scrimmage — six — has put him in elite company.

And in doing so, he has helped change the Chiefs' identity.

"He's super important, super important," Chiefs offensive tackle Jawaan Taylor said. "He plays a pivotal role to our success on offense."

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Mahomes will get the accolades if the Chiefs defeat the San Francisco 49ers on Sunday, and they're deserved for one of the greatest quarterbacks ever. But Pacheco will have a big say in whether the Chiefs win. He might even have a shot at Super Bowl MVP if everything goes right, even though he's still 28-to-1 to win that at BetMGM.

He has gotten plenty of attention down the stretch but maybe not enough credit for helping revive the Chiefs' season.

Isiah Pacheco played a big role late

In Weeks 14 and 15, Pacheco was inactive due to injury. In Week 16 he came back but to a limited role. The Chiefs went 1-2 in those games.

That was when the Chiefs handed Pacheco a workhorse's share of the carries. They haven't lost since. Not counting a Week 18 game in which the Chiefs rested their starters, Pacheco hasn't played less than 70 percent of the offensive snaps in any of Kansas City's games, and he's averaging more than 20 carries per game. Nobody in the NFL averaged 20 carries per game over the regular season.

Pacheco is doing it despite logging 17 games (including playoffs) already this season. He is supposed to be worn down at this time of the season, especially as a running back, but he looks fresh.

"Definitely feeling good," Pacheco said. "Not really worried about how many reps I get, just focused on the team and our goals."

It helps that Pacheco is a constant source of energy. He has gotten attention for his hard-running style, and that's basically his personality even when he doesn't have the ball.

"Coach [Andy] Reid calls him the Tasmanian Devil," Taylor said. "He just brings that energy every day. He always goes. He's always going to go. We feed off that energy in the huddle. He has a high motor, man. All he knows is 'Go.'"

As the Chiefs' season lagged with six regular-season losses, perhaps they needed Pacheco's energy to snap them out of it.

"Isiah is a dog, man," Chiefs guard Trey Smith said. "He brings that juice, energy and passion every single day. Talk about a guy who just loves the game of football. When you have a guy like that, it's a spark to the offense. It's a spark to the team. It's like all right, I might feeling a little tired, but look at this guy. He's going nuts, on the sideline in the huddle. It goes a long way."

Pacheco could be big in Chiefs' plan

Pacheco is a key to this Super Bowl because he can exploit what might be a weakness in the 49ers' defense.

San Francisco has allowed 136 and 182 rushing yards in its two playoff games. It allowed 4.1 yards per carry in the regular season, which ranked 14th in the NFL. It's not a bad run defense, but it wouldn't be a surprise if the Chiefs plan to test it out with Pacheco. He had 76 yards and a rushing touchdown in last year's Super Bowl win, and if the Chiefs win Sunday it might be because he had a similar impact.

The Chiefs have never focused on the run game much in the Mahomes era, and for good reason. But late in the season Kansas City looked a lot more like a team relying on its run game and strong defense to win a Super Bowl than ever before.

Pacheco came to the Chiefs last season as a seventh-round pick out of Rutgers and steadily climbed to a big role in the offense. He still runs like a seventh-round pick trying to make the team.

"That's why I leave it out there every day, give it all I got," Pacheco said. "You never know when it's going to go, but you give it all you got every single moment."