KANSAS CITY, Mo. — As Patrick Mahomes emerged from the shower and headed to his locker inside the Kansas City Chiefs’ locker room Saturday after an AFC Divisional win against Jacksonville, all eyes were drawn to his right ankle.
Mahomes had missed most of the second quarter after getting his leg rolled up, limping his way through the rest of the drive.
But he wasn’t wearing a boot or any protective device and the ankle showed remarkably little swelling.
“It feels better than I thought it would feel now,” Mahomes said after going 22 of 30 for 195 yards with two touchdowns in a 27-20 win.
When Mahomes came up gimpy after being hit by Jaguars linebacker Arden Key from behind late in the first quarter, it felt like the air got sucked out of GEHA Field at Arrowhead Stadium.
“At the end of the day, the best quarterback in the game went down, the stadium’s quiet, everyone’s hoping that he’s doing well,” defensive end Frank Clark said.
That feeling permeated the Chiefs’ sideline too, though the club’s confidence probably wasn’t as shaken as the rest of Chiefs Kingdom.
“I don’t want to look over how great of a quarterback Pat is and what he means to this team, but, if anybody goes down, it’s next man in,” tight end Travis Kelce said. “If I go down, it’s next man in. That’s just the mentality you’ve got to have, especially in a playoff game like this. You can’t miss a beat.”
Mahomes’ replacement, Chad Henne, led a clutch 98-yard drive in the second quarter, but only after Kansas City coach Andy Reid told Mahomes he couldn’t continue without getting his injury x-rayed.
“He’s a tough kid, so he wanted to be in there, he wanted to be competing and that’s a tribute to him and his competitiveness,” Reid said. “However, you’ve got to make sure he’s OK — physically OK, where he can protect himself. If he can’t, then he can’t play. You have to go with the next guy. But he’s a tough nut and he’s very — when I tell you he’s competitive, he’s very competitive.”
After taking off his coat and slamming it onto the Chiefs’ bench, Mahomes, who had finished the drive in which he was injured, reluctantly complied.
“I obviously didn’t want to go back and see it,” Mahomes said. “I didn’t want to go get the x-rays or whatever it was. I wanted just to continue to play. I told them I would do it at halftime, but coach, in the best interest of me, he made me go back there and get that x-ray before he put me back in the game.”
While Mahomes’ absence was noticed, his toughness to return and deliver a gutsy second-half performance to reach a fifth straight AFC Championship Game also resonated in Kansas City’s locker room.
“Pat being who Pat is, he’s tough as hell, man,” Clark said.
He added that it wasn’t a surprise after seeing Mahomes suffer a dislocated knee against Denver in 2019 only to return a few weeks later to “finish the season as strong as ever” in helping Kansas City snap a half-century Super Bowl drought.
Clark said it’s easier to deal with his own bumps and bruises seeing what Mahomes puts in for the team.
“I can deal with those (injuries) all day when I’ve got a quarterback like Pat,” Clark said.
Nobody in Kansas City’s locker room has ever questioned Mahomes’ toughness or competitive fire — and he showed why there’s no reason to on Saturday.
“We’ve been through a lot of ups and downs on this team, especially since I’ve been here,” Kelce said. “I think I’ve seen all the grit out of that guy I need to see to know that he’s going to do anything he can to help us win that game. Sure enough, you saw it today. Nothing’s ever surprising. It’s always just appreciated, very much appreciated.”
Even newcomers like wide receiver Marquez Valdes-Scantling appreciate and admire Mahomes’ grit.
“The resilience that he shows trickles down to all the guys on the team,” Valdes-Scantling said. “... He’s our quarterback. You never want to see anybody go down, especially your captain. But I knew he was tough and I knew he was going to be able to get up and keep going.”
Valdes-Scantling caught a 6-yard touchdown from Mahomes in the fourth quarter, the dagger in the Divisional win.
Under pressure on the second-down play, Mahomes stepped up in the pocket and leapt in the air a bit to complete the pass to Valdes-Scantling, collapsing to the turf after landing on the bum ankle.
“Obviously, that was a big moment in the game to give us a bit of a lead, some breathing room,” Valdes-Scantling said. “Watching Pat be on the ground, getting up and still excited hobbling off the field just shows the toughness that he has and the leader that he is."
Mahomes said he expects to play in the AFC Championship Game next Sunday against Cincinnati at home or against Buffalo in Atlanta, depending on who wins the other AFC Divisional game.
“I’m not coming out of a playoff game unless they take me out,” Mahomes said. “I’m just going to play. I love this sport too much. I love this game. I love playing with my teammates and being able to go out there and enjoy it together. We prepare all year to be in the playoffs and to play in these games, and I’m glad that I was able to get back in the game. It’s something that I just love — competing in this sport. And pain is pain. You’re going to have to deal with it either way.”