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Chiefs: Mahomes 'going to play' against Bengals for AFC title

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KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Chiefs coach Andy Reid said Monday that Patrick Mahomes will play in the AFC title game against the Bengals, and that the high ankle sprain the All-Pro quarterback sustained against the Jaguars last weekend is less severe than the one he played through during the 2019 season opener.

“He's going to play,” Reid told a group of local reporters. “That's his mindset.”

Mahomes was hurt in the first quarter of Saturday's win over Jacksonville when pass rusher Arden Key landed heavily on his right ankle. Mahomes finished the drive but was hobbling badly, and Reid and the training staff forced him to get an X-ray — it came back negative — and do some agility testing at halftime before allowing him back in the game.

In the meantime, backup Chad Henne led the Chiefs on a 12-play, 98-yard touchdown drive in the 27-20 victory.

Mahomes played well in the second half, but the Chiefs dramatically altered their offense to account for his reduced mobility.

Mahomes rarely went under center and threw almost exclusively from the pocket, rather than scrambling to buy time and make the many off-schedule throws that have made him so dynamic over the years.

He still threw for 195 yards and two touchdowns, including the eventual clincher with about 7 minutes to play.

Mahomes said afterward that his ankle felt better than expected and he vowed to play in the AFC title game — the fifth consecutive one hosted by Kansas City and a rematch of last year's game won by Cincinnati in overtime.

“Pain is pain,” Mahomes said. “You're going to have to deal with it.”

Jaguars Chiefs Football

Kansas City Chiefs head coach Andy Reid speaks during a news conference after Saturday's AFC divisional round game against the Jacksonville Jaguars in Kansas City, Mo.

Reid said it was too early to tell how much Mahomes will practice this week. The Chiefs typically spend Monday reviewing film and getting treatment, then the players get Tuesday off, before their first full practice on Wednesday.

“When we get to that Wednesday practice we'll see where we're at,” Reid said. “I've got to see how he feels.”

Asked whether Mahomes could play without practice, Reid replied: “Who the heck knows?”

“He's done some amazing things with limited time,” Reid added. “I think so. He's never had to do it."

Mahomes sustained a similar ankle injury in the 2019 opener against Jacksonville, and Reid said “I think this one isn't quite as bad as that one.”

In that case, Mahomes played the following week in Oakland, going 30 of 44 for 443 yards and four TD passes without an interception in a 28-10 win over the Raiders.

Regardless of whether Mahomes practices, Henne is likely to get more repetitions than usual. And while the quarterbacks have vastly different styles, Reid doesn't believe they will dramatically alter the Chiefs' game plan.

“We try to keep open communication with the quarterbacks as best we can,” he said. “We've had Chad here a while now. We know the plays he likes and doesn't like. We also know the plays that Pat likes and doesn't like. We try to blend it and make sure that we have plays that work for both of them.”

What's working

The Chiefs proved they can take pressure off the quarterback with the ground game on Saturday night, running for nearly 5 yards per carry against Jacksonville. Isiah Pacheco had 95 yards rushing, much of it coming on Henne's long scoring drive.

What's not

The Chiefs' wide receivers struggled against the Jaguars, forcing the Chiefs to lean heavily on Travis Kelce, who had 14 catches for 98 yards and two scores. Kadarius Toney was their top wide receiver with five grabs for 36 yards, but nobody else in the group had more than two receptions or 29 yards.

Stock up

This is the time of the year Frank Clark makes good on his contract. The defensive end sometimes struggles during the regular season, but his sack against the Jaguars gave him 12 for his playoff career. That tied Hall of Famer Reggie White for fourth among all players since sacks became an official stat in 1982.

Stock down

Meanwhile, defensive tackle Chris Jones is still searching for his first career postseason sack. He had 15 1/2 in the regular season, third most in the league, but had just one tackle and one quarterback hit against the Jaguars.

Injuries

Mahomes will dominate the conversation all week. Otherwise, the Chiefs came out of the divisional round healthy.

Key number

14 — That's the number of playoff touchdown catches for Kelce, which trails only Rob Gronkowski (15) and Jerry Rice (22) for the most in NFL history. Kelce has had at least one in each of his past four postseason games.

Next steps

The Chiefs have lost three straight to the Bengals, all since January 2022, including last year's AFC championship game. That was the only one of the three played at Arrowhead Stadium, though just like the rest, the Chiefs wound up losing by a field goal. In that game, Kansas City blew a 21-3 lead in the 27-24 overtime defeat.

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Two years in a row the Dallas Cowboys have flubbed their last-ditch drives against the San Francisco 49ers in the playoffs. Last year, Dak Prescott ran too far on a quarterback draw and handed the ball to his center instead of the umpire. Time expired before he could get off one more play for a Hail Mary. This time, it was those around him who made the mistakes. 

The San Francisco 49ers got a jolt offensively when they made the bold decision in October to trade four draft picks to add Christian McCaffrey to an already deep group of playmakers. The Philadelphia Eagles made an aggressive trade of their own to supercharge their offense when they added game-breaking receiver A.J. Brown in a draft-day trade. The two moves by the NFC powerhouses are big reasons why the Niners and Eagles are set to meet in the conference title game in Philadelphia on Sunday with a spot in the Super Bowl on the line.

Cincinnati Bengals quarterback Joe Burrow has two major offensive players at his fingertips in receivers Ja'Marr Chase and Tee Higgins. The two are the first pair of Bengals wideouts to gain 1,000 yards in back-to-back season since Chad Johnson and T.J. Houshmandzadeh in 2006 and 2007. They've combined to catch 18 touchdown passes and will look for when Cincinnati plays at Kansas City on Sunday in the AFC championship game for the second straight year. But their futures in Cincinnati aren't a given, considering the Bengals are famously frugal and will have to pay up to keep Burrow around.

Quarterbacks Jalen Hurts and Brock Purdy have been here before. Just not in the NFL. The two met in November 2019, when Hurts was the QB for Oklahoma and Purdy was the QB for Iowa State. In that game, Hurts passed for three touchdowns and ran for two more scores for Oklahoma. Purdy passed for five touchdowns for Iowa State. could be primed for a shootout in the NFC championship game.

Four of the best tight ends in the NFL will be on display in Sunday's conference championship games. In the opener, Dallas Goedert of the Eagles will face the 49ers and George Kittle, while the nightcap features Travis Kelce of the Chiefs and Hayden Hurst of the Bengals. They have all been instrumental in helping their teams reach the precipice of the Super Bowl, though all do it in different ways.

The Philadelphia Eagles are heading to the NFC championship game on the strength of wide receivers A.J. Brown and DeVonta Smith. Brown had 88 catches for 1,496 yards and 11 touchdowns this season, while Smith finished his second NFL season with 95 catches, which are the most by a wide receiver in team history.

The San Francisco 49ers defense hadn’t been playing up to its usual high level in recent weeks, allowing a few too many big plays. On a day when the offense struggled to produce, the Niners defense responded with a signature performance that sent them back to the NFC championship game.

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