On Saturday night, the Kansas City Chiefs advanced to their fifth consecutive AFC title game by defeating the Jacksonville Jaguars 27-20 in the divisional round. Depending on the result of Sunday's game between the Buffalo Bills and Cincinnati Bengals, the Chiefs will either host the title game (if Cincinnati wins) or travel to Atlanta to play the game at a neutral site (if Buffalo wins).
No matter which of those eventualities comes to pass, there will undoubtedly be a ton of attention paid throughout this next week to the health of Patrick Mahomes. Mahomes started the game against Jacksonville on fire, completing 6-of-8 passes for 58 yards and a touchdown on the Chiefs' opening drive.
He was off to a strong start on their second possession as well, only to Arden Key.when he got rolled up on by Jaguars defensive lineman
Mahomes was visibly injured, hopping around on the injured ankle and barely able to put any weight on it. The Chiefs called a timeout to give him some extra time to get taped up, and did an even more thorough tape job between the first and second quarters. But after that drive stalled out at the Jacksonville 32-yard line and ended in a field goal, the Chiefs sent Mahomes to the locker room to get X-rays.
He could be seen on the sideline telling the coaching staff and medical staff that he did not want to go to the locker room and could stay in the game, but he told NBC's Melissa Stark during his on-field interview following the game the medical staff would not let him return to the field unless and until he got an X-ray on the ankle. "X-rays were negative," Mahomes said. "They haven't diagnosed anything yet but I'll be good to go [next week]." (Mahomes told Trevor Lawrence the same thing.) According to an ESPN report, Mahomes will undergo an MRI on Sunday.
Mahomes was able to get through the ankle injury after he returned to start the second half against the Jags. He missed a long second-quarter drive on which Chad Henne led the team 98 yards on 12 plays, but managed to return to action. Upon returning, Mahomes completed 10-of-15 passes for 111 yards and a touchdown without taking a sack. That performance was a testament to his toughness, the quality of Kansas City's offensive line and his ability to do spectacular things even when his body is compromised.
His touchdown pass to Marquez Valdes-Scantling was the best example of the latter:
Still, Mahomes was also much more of a stationary target in the second half than he usually is, and he visibly struggled to execute handoffs from under center while moving around on the gimpy ankle. His mobility and the ease with which he makes plays outside the structure of the offense are huge parts of what make Mahomes the best quarterback in the league. Taking those aspects of his game away from him -- or even minimizing them -- turns him into a much different player. As we saw against Jacksonville, he can still be quite effective, but it's more difficult for him to create big plays and to make the kinds of unorthodox throws that we've become accustomed to over the years.
Both the Bills and Bengals have much stingier defenses than the Jaguars' unit, and with more imposing pass rushes. Kansas City still has one of the NFL's best offensive lines and so it should be able to keep the rush at bay and give Mahomes time in the pocket to execute, but that task will be more difficult next week than it was on Saturday night. And both the Bills and Bengals have more explosive offenses than the one the Chiefs saw this week, which means Kansas City might need to access those explosive plays more often next week than it was able to on Saturday night. All of that means that Mahomes needs to be as healthy as possible a week from now, which makes that ankle one of the most important things in the NFL to watch for next week.