Talk about a close call. When reigning Super Bowl MVP Patrick Mahomes stood up from a tackle in the third quarter with a glossed over look in his eyes and an inability to maintain balance, every molecule of air left Arrowhead Stadium. The former league MVP was helped to the blue medical tent and then the locker room, where he was ruled out and placed in concussion protocol, which he remains in this week. It then became The Chad Henne Show, which got off to some rocky opening scenes before he'd go on to deliver a football crescendo in the closing moments of the AFC divisional round that no one will forget -- least of all the Cleveland Browns.
That was certainly an entertaining escape for Henne and the Chiefs, but there's a great chance they'll need the big guns back in uniform for the AFC Championship Game and potentially beyond. There's no bigger gun than Mahomes, but he's not the only key player that could help decide their fate.
So what will it take for the Chiefs to repeat as champions?
The return of the king
Chad Henne did a thing, and it was marvelous.
That said, it is also true that no matter what Henne did (and seriously, how insane was that?), he's not Mahomes. Head coach Andy Reid and offensive coordinator Eric Bieniemy are offensive masterminds who might be able to squeak their way to a second consecutive championship with Henne at the ready, but the key word here is "might." Before he set the world on fire with timely clutch play to close out the Browns, he heaved an interception into the end zone that kept them in position to upset Kansas City at Arrowhead -- a point that shouldn't be easily dismissed. Mahomes is simply a different type of human, assuming he's one at all, and having him on the field allows for the complete playbook along with the benefit of unpredictable improvisation.
Currently still in concussion protocol, the Chiefs are optimistic about his status after continued tests this week, and that's a good sign. Until he's cleared, however, there's still a justifiable concern he could miss the AFC title game, and that would put the Chiefs' aspirations for another Lombardi in serious doubt. Could Bieniemy scheme up a dish that sees Henne topple both the high-powered Bills and either Aaron Rogers and the Packers or Tom Brady and the Buccaneers? I'm sure he'd be up to the challenge, but I'm also sure he'd rather have Mahomes under center.
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Is it time for the former LSU star running back to get back to wrecking shop?
The Chiefs sure hope so, because while they've seen backup Darrel Williams play solid football in the absence of Clyde Edwards-Helaire, no running back on the depth chart butters the bread like the rookie first-round pick. That goes for All-Pro halfback Le'Veon Bell as well, who has recently been nothing more than an afterthought while Williams receives the bulk of the action in replacing Edwards-Helaire -- who was unable to return against the Browns in the AFC divisional round. That marked the third consecutive game he's missed with an ankle injury suffered in Week 15 against the New Orleans Saints, despite the Chiefs having a first-round bye following the conclusion of the regular season.
While the absence of Edwards-Helaire doesn't cripple the high-flying Chiefs offense, his presence takes them over the top and makes them virtually unstoppable, alongside helping Kansas City out on additional fronts -- i.e. if Mahomes is cleared to play, he'll still be nursing an injured toe that could impact his mobility and require greater utilization of the Chiefs' running backs and, if he isn't, they'll need as much firepower behind backup quarterback Chad Henne as they can muster (to keep opposing defenses honest enough for him to operate).
Keep the pedal to the floor
Yes, the Browns are legit, but it felt like something was missing on Sunday for the Chiefs.
For me, it was their usual killer mentality, or Mamba Mentality -- if you will -- seemingly allowing Cleveland to hang around in the first half when it truly felt like the Chiefs could've blown the top off of the game at any moment. That instance never came, so by the time they lost Mahomes in the third quarter, the Browns were already at the doorstep of delivering an upset, and the aforementioned interception by Henne only gave them that much more momentum before the backup went on to save his own backside with some elite last-minute heroics. Usually, the Chiefs are looking to hang 50 points on all comers, but a combination of miscues and the decision to dial it back a bit -- as opposed to unleashing the hounds consistently against Baker Mayfield -- almost cost them a run at Super Bowl LV.
If Mahomes and/or Edwards-Helaire are back, there will be no reason to get back to full acceleration and that's the mentality they'll need to have, considering the Bills aren't flying into Arrowhead Stadium to have a civil discussion. Josh Allen and Stefon Diggs are looking to rack up points, lots of them, and this will also be the case for either of the NFC contenders. If the Chiefs want to hoist another Lombardi, they have to get back to the business of fast starts and explosive dominance for four quarters -- not two -- in all three phases, because they're one of the only teams in the league capable of doing so.