DENVER — The NFL is the ultimate next-man-up league.
The Kansas City Chiefs lived that mantra to its most extreme Thursday night in Denver when reigning league MVP Patrick Mahomes suffered a knee injury.
When Mahomes limped off the field with 10 minutes left in the second quarter after a quarterback sneak left him with a dislocated kneecap, it felt like disaster for Kansas City and a league with so much invested in its brightest young star.
By the time the Chiefs walked off Empower Field with a 30-6 victory over the Denver Broncos, the mood was far from devastated. Players celebrated as they met an enthused fan base greeting them at the tunnel to their locker room and showed no signs of having watched the present and future of their franchise go down in a heap.
Mahomes refused to take cart off field
Mahomes set the tone when he waved away the cart and shed his assistance as he somehow walked to the locker room on his own with his knee injury.
Head coach Andy Reid spoke to Mahomes’ resilience and his mood in his postgame news conference.
“He’s in a good place,” Reid said. “He was in a good place on the field, when it happened. Our doc was phenomenal in just calming everything down. Pat was good and felt very comfortable with him. He refused to get in that cart.”
Mahomes maintained that optimism in a postgame tweet congratulating his teammates for the victory, saying “Awesome team win! Love my brothers! Thank you for all the prayers! Everything looking food so far!”
Chiefs rally behind Moore
When Mahomes left the game, the Chiefs held a 10-6 lead. Behind a stifling defense that tallied nine sacks and a steady performance from backup quarterback Matt Moore, the Chiefs went on to score the game’s final 20 points in a dominant victory over a division rival.
Moore finished the game in Mahomes’ stead completing 10-of-19 passes for 117 yards and a touchdown.
Moore spoke after the game to the matter-of-fact approach NFL players have to take in the wake of significant injuries.
“I was devastated for him,” Moore said. “Obviously he’s been dinged up and he’s popped up pretty quick before. This one obviously wasn’t that case. So I just hope he’s OK.
“At the same time, we’ve got to go and win a football game. I’ve been in this position before. Gotta move forward and go. Just wish him the best with his leg.”
Hill: ‘I don’t see nothing changing’
A big chunk of Moore’s production arrived courtesy of a 57-yard scoring pass to Tyreek Hill in the third quarter that extended Kansas City’s lead to 27-6, demoralizing a Denver crowd that realized hope of a comeback was out of hand.
Hill broke free from coverage on the right side of the field, and Moore lofted a perfect pass down the sideline that Hill carried into the end zone.
Hill, who just returned last week from an inured shoulder that knocked him out of four games, spoke to the mentality needed to look forward in a league riddled with injuries.
“I don't see nothing changing,” Hill said. “Matt is a guy who has been in this league a long time. Coach Reid trusts him in the system. I don't feel anything is going to be changed.”
Kelce on Mahomes’ knee: ‘It was all out of whack’
While a brave face and an optimistic outlook were theme of the postgame scene, Pro Bowl tight end Travis Kelce gave a sobering assessment of what he saw on the field.
“I saw his knee,” Kelce said, per the Kansas City Star. “It didn’t look like a knee. It was all out of whack. I can’t even describe it. You looked at it; you were like, ‘Oh, man, there’s something wrong with him.’”
Video of the aftermath of the injury gives credence to Kelce’s observation.
Mahomes’ prognosis unclear
Reid declined to give a prognosis on Mahomes, promising to share more information on his outlook when the team learns more from test results. Whether Mahomes is out for a few weeks or for the long-term is unclear.
One thing is clear. Moore is not Mahomes — not even close.
Beating a struggling Broncos team that played a poor game is one thing. But Aaron Rodgers and the Green Bay Packers are up next for the Chiefs next Sunday night. Assuming Mahomes is out for that game, the Packers will provide a much truer test of where the Chiefs stand minus their MVP quarterback.
Meanwhile the Chiefs — who had their sights set on a Super Bowl entering the season — will have to maintain a brave face in light of losing the NFL’s biggest star.
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