It is hard to believe it has been just three weeks since Patrick Mahomes dislocated his kneecap on Thursday Night Football against the Denver Broncos Oct. 17.
It is also hard to believe Mahomes will likely make his return either Sunday against the Tennessee Titans or Nov. 18 in Mexico City against the Los Angeles Chargers.
Mahomes began the week practicing Wednesday and looked good and well celebrating Harrison Butker’s game-winning field goal against the Minnesota Vikings Sunday. Given that and the reports from Fox Sports’ NFL Insider Jay Glazer that Mahomes’ risk of reinjury will drastically decrease after 21 days off, it seems likely Mahomes will be prepared to take the field Sunday in Nashville.
With the reigning MVP returning, the Chiefs must continue to perform at the high levels they did for Matt Moore in the last three games. Most analysis of the Chiefs in the weeks leading into the Week 12 bye will be fixated on how Mahomes looks post-injury, but the most telling signs of this team’s postseason potential will be seen on defense.
After watching the waning years of Bob Sutton’s career, it is hard to blame fans for feeling a knot in their stomach when the defense takes the field for a drive with large implications. They could not get the job done against Green Bay, and frankly, looked silly trying to stop Aaron Jones and Aaron Rodgers from having their way.
But that was not the case this week and while the Vikings are not nearly as daunting as the Packers, there was plenty of room for the Chiefs’ defense to allow Kirk Cousins to orchestrate a game-winning drive. I would be lying if I told you I did not think that was going to happen. Instead, the Vikings elected to pass the ball on all three plays of a drive they started with two minutes and 30 seconds remaining. Daniel Sorensen basically ended the drive on second down with a seven-yard tackle for loss and Moore did what Cousins could not in driving the Chiefs down the field for the game-winner.
Since losing to Houston in Week 6, we have seen a clear effort by the Chiefs’ defensive line to not get pushed around upfront. It was not as obvious against the Packers since Jones did so much damage catching passes out of the backfield but Phillip Lindsay and Dalvin Cook struggled in matchups against the Chiefs that projected them to perform well.
Chris Jones’ return only solidifies the sentiment that this unit is turning the corner and Frank Clark should be back soon to set the edge.
Tyrann Mathieu is playing at a superstar level in regards to what he is being asked to do in a beaten up secondary. Charvarius Ward appears to have said goodbye to the days of quarterbacks isolating him for big plays. Third-round draft pick Juan Thornhill has fit in nicely and he and Mathieu seldom allow a deep pass to connect.
Mahomes’ pass-catchers will need to produce at the level they did for Moore against the Vikings with Tyreek Hill, Travis Kelce and Sammy Watkins all grabbing more than seven passes apiece. With Hill’s deep threat, Watkins’ stellar hands and Kelce’s ability to go up and get any pass, Mahomes will not be struggling to find open guys.
Perhaps the biggest concern is if he will have time to find them. With Eric Fisher not practicing Wednesday, protection of Mahomes’ blindside will again be left up to Cam Erving, who has been less than serviceable against the pass rush. Andy Reid has schemed his offense to get the ball out of Moore’s hands fast and I imagine we will see more of the same as Mahomes works his way back into playing.
At the risk of being completely wrong, I believe Mahomes will play this week, barring any setbacks, of course. Unless a doctor literally says he cannot play, I see zero point in sending Moore out for another start. The Titans have a deceptively solid defense but with the loss of Malcolm Butler at cornerback, they are not nearly as scary as anyone wants you to think.
Chiefs 31, Titans 17
Yes, the last time the Chiefs and Titans played in 2018 was one of the most horrifying playoff experiences in Chiefs history, but this is a new era of football in Kansas City.
Jason Brown is the Sports Editor of the Leavenworth Times.