Five thoughts about a bruising, injurious game at Arrowhead:
This might be insane, but I say Patrick Mahomes will play okay with a high ankle sprain. I point to the winning TD pass in the divisional round win over Jacksonville. Obviously hobbling up in the pocket with the right ankle killing him, Mahomes zipped a ball off his left foot 19 yards in the air to Marquez Valdes-Scantling. So it wasn’t an Aroldis Chapman fastball; it was plenty fast and right on target, and it won the game. As former Mahomes right tackle Mitchell Schwartz tweeted: “Can’t plant and push off for down the field throws. He’s going to change his mechanics now and start throwing with all arm.” Talk about a prescient tweet. As I see it, what changes now with Mahomes is the fact that throwing on the run mostly goes away. Maybe the gameplan will be to have a more consistent sixth blocker (extra tight end?) in on obvious pass plays. The sheer force of will of Mahomes will help carry him through, I believe. And if he’s ineffective Sunday night, Andy Reid will have the guts and common sense to play Chad Henne—which would not be a disaster.
Orlando Brown pointed out two benefits to Mahomes playing hobbled. “When something like that happens,” said Brown, KC’s left tackle, “it forces us up front to play even harder to make sure he doesn’t get hit. That’s one thing about it—you get motivated to up your game even more.” This is corny, and I’m not sure how much it actually improves the quality of play of the other 10 players. But Brown said seeing the leader of the team fight with coaches to stay in the game and insist on playing through an injury many would not play with does something in the alpha-male world of football. “We have a ton of grit instilled in us here, and we love the sport and love each other. I don’t know how to explain it, but we just want to rally behind 15. He’s the epitome of what our team is.” It’s not the same as Mahomes being completely healthy, of course, but other factors may make the other 10 play better.
Travis Kelce showed he’s the best and surest-handed of the short and intermediate receivers in football. He caught 14 balls Saturday. He might catch 44 in the championship game. Coverage patterns in this game will be interesting. If I were Cincinnati, I’d put a consistent second cover player, a physical one like a rangy linebacker, on Kelce.
Losing home field would’ve been a factor, but I doubt a big one. “We’ll play in a CVS parking lot, man,” Brown said. “We don’t care.” Even before Sunday’s game would determine their championship foe, there wasn’t much of a trend when Kansas City played the other two teams. Since 2020, in regular- and post-season games, KC is 2-1 against Buffalo at home, 1-0 at Buffalo, 0-1 against Cincinnati at home, 0-1 at Cincinnati.
The Jags should be proud. Count the accomplishments: After “winning” the first overall draft pick two straight years, Jacksonville won the AFC South, rebounded from a 27-point deficit to beat the Chargers in a Wild Card game, established a raucous, young front seven that the franchise can grow with, hired a coach who can train a franchise quarterback, got that quarterback playing 50 percent better than in his rookie year, and finished with an 8-3 post-Halloween record. On Saturday, coach Doug Pederson got the main point of it all: Trevor Lawrence is good, and he’s a leader. “The success of your football team relies on the quarterback,” Pederson said. “You have to get that piece and that player right. I feel we have that person right. Trevor is just going to get better. He is going to learn from this. He is going to grow with the receivers, tight ends, the backs because they are all young.” He could use a franchise tight end, and one more receiver—either the formerly suspended Calvin Ridley, acquired during the season, or one in the draft. Jacksonville, in the span of a half-season, showed it might be (might being the apt word) the AFC South team to beat in 2023.
Read more in Peter King’s full Football Morning in America column