It looked like a comparatively safe play, as if anything about the NFL can be categorized as such. Pat Mahomes barreled into the line on a quarterback sneak, quickly disappearing amid a pile of behemoths above and below him.
It was a fourth-down play the Chiefs needed barely a yard from the Broncos 5. Mahomes gained two. But when the pile of bodies was being cleared, Mahomes was on the back of his center Austin Reiter.
Within just a few moments it was clear this was not an ordinary play. The attention soon focused on Mahomes and the anquished look on his face. He began screaming directions to his teammates, asking them to get a trainer. Something was clearly wrong. Suddenly, the remainder of the Chiefs season was covered by a cloud.
Kansas City’s medical staff quickly gathered around him and if you looked closely you could see one of the attendees manipulating the knee of the reigning MVP. Mahomes covered his face with his hands.
We soon learned they were popping a dislocated right knee cap back into place. Mahomes left the field for the locker room on his own power and it was quickly announced he would miss what remained of the Chiefs’ 30-6 win over the Denver Broncos.
Mahomes had an MRI to determine if there was any structural damage to the knee ligaments. ESPN reported the results were as good as the Chiefs could have hoped for. He’s expected to miss at least three weeks.
“Not too many people get hurt on a sneak,” Chiefs coach Andy Reid said after the game. “It’s a freak thing, and it happens.”
Of course, a split-second is all it takes to turn a team’s season upside down. And in the case of Mahomes, perhaps the biggest offensive weapon the league has to offer, his extended absence would put a major crimp in the Chiefs plan to win the AFC Championship – if not the Super Bowl.
After the game in the locker room, Mahomes’ mood seemed lighter, although he wore a black compression sleeve over his knee. He briefly spoke to his teammates, imploring them to enjoy their weekends and to remember there was still much more to accomplish.
Chiefs offensive lineman Laurent Duvernay-Tardif is a medical school graduate. And he told reporters after the game it was immediately clear something was wrong with Mahomes.
“He was saying, ‘It’s out, it’s out,'” said Duvernay-Tardif. “Nobody really understood what he meant at that time, and then we saw it. … That’s when we started panicking. Not panicking, but seeing that he was not all right. Everybody could have known something was wrong.”
Chiefs tight end Travis Kelce was a bit more graphic, telling the media Mahomes knee was unrecognizable immediately after the injury. One member of the Broncos defensive line told The Athletic that Mahomes knee appeared to be pushed to one side.
Until Mahomes is ready to return, the Chiefs will rely on veteran Matt Moore, who had been a high school assistant coach and a scout for the Miami Dolphins before Kansas City signed him when backup Chad Henne broke his ankle.
Moore looked pretty good, completing 10 of 19 for 117 yards, including a 57-yard touchdown to the fleet Tyreek Hill.
“That’s (Mahomes) one of the toughest guys I’ve played with,” Reiter told The Athletic. “He’s the leader of this team. We knew once that happened, the rest of the offense knew we had to put that game on our back. It was our job to finish it.”
To their credit, the Chiefs (5-2) did not allow the injury to impact their play. Soon after they scored on the return of a strip-sack of Broncos quarterback Joe Flacco, who they sacked nine times. It was total annihilation.
It’s possible Mahomes could be back by late November. The Chiefs play four times before their bye week in the middle of November. If he’s OK, he could simply slip on a brace and get back on the field, in much the same way Detroit’s Matthew Stafford did a decade ago less than a month after a similar injury.
“Standing on his feet and just being super optimistic about everything just shows, one more time, how strong of a man he is and how good of a leader he is,” said Duvernay-Tardif. “He’s like, ‘I’m going to get better.’ It was just great to see him walk and smile.”