The Kansas City Chiefs are headed to the AFC Championship Game for the third time in three years, but they lost their star quarterback in Sunday afternoon's clinching victory, with MVP candidate Patrick Mahomes exiting early against the Cleveland Browns due to a concussion. While fill-in Chad Henne finished strong during Kansas City's close win over Cleveland, all eyes are now on Mahomes. Can he possibly return in time for next Sunday's AFC Championship? And what, exactly, does Mahomes need to do to be cleared to suit up against the Buffalo Bills?

We're glad you asked. Here's everything you need to know:

How long will Mahomes be sidelined?

It's impossible to put a timetable on Mahomes' return. The NFL's concussion protocol is not based on length of recovery, but rather a specific five-step rehabilitation plan. That's not necessarily good news for the Chiefs and their fans, but it's not necessarily bad, either. The entire process is specific to each individual.

For reference, however, The Athletic's Lindsay Jones cites NFL concussion data in reporting that the median recovery time for the 29 QBs who suffered a concussion between 2015-2019 was seven days. "Recovery," in that sense, is defined by the QB clearing protocol and returning to the field. In other words, were Mahomes to follow a similar trend, he'd be right on the verge of returning, as the Chiefs are set to play exactly seven days from his injury.

What does Mahomes have to do to return?

Complete the concussion protocol. To be specific, as explained on, the recovery steps are as follows:

  1. The player rests until signs and symptoms return to baseline status, and undergoes neurological, cognitive, and balance tests
  2. The player begins cardio exercise and/or stretching and balance training under the oversight of the team's medical staff
  3. The player increases exercises and/or sport-specific activities and begins supervised strength training
  4. The player continues training and resumes non-contact football activities (e.g. throwing, running, etc.)
  5. The player is cleared by the team physician for full contact and passes an independent neurological exam, then returns to practice

When will the Chiefs decide on his status?

There's no rush here. Mahomes cannot even return to practice until clearing the first four phases of concussion protocol, and it's possible he could enter the AFC Championship Game without a single full practice in the first place. In other words, Kansas City likely won't -- and, technically, can't -- declare Mahomes good to go until the doctors say so. That could mean Wednesday. It could mean just before the Chiefs prepare to fight for another Super Bowl bid.