The Chiefs’ defense looks much better ... but, really, is that why you’re reading this?
Patrick Mahomes is hurt.
That’s the only important thing involving the Chiefs right now.
He appeared — and, hopefully this is an unnecessary disclaimer, but I am not a doctor — to suffer a dislocated kneecap. A source confirmed as much to The Star’s Herbie Teope during the game. The knee appeared — again, disclaimer — to be put back in place.
Mahomes walked off the field, first with help, and then on his own. A franchise, its fans and their Super Bowl hopes wait for an answer about how serious this is.
The Chiefs beat the Broncos 30-6 here Thursday night, so the trip wasn’t a total waste. But there is no doubt that the team is in a worse place now than before the fourth-and-short sneak that left Mahomes in pain and teammates slamming their helmets on the turf in frustration.
The Internet quickly filled with people of varying degrees of medical experience offering diagnoses, and every man who has injured a kneecap in the last 30 years recounting his experience.
Here’s what we know: The Chiefs have a few extra days to prepare for the first game of the rest of their season. Going from Mahomes to Matt Moore — who was coaching at his old high school two months ago — is like going from a Ferrari to a comfortable pair of shoes.
The offense will have to change. The burden is now on the Chiefs’ coaches, their (injured) offensive line and the (very capable) skill-position players. The defense will have to grow up fast, and at least on that point Week 7 provided the most encouraging signs yet that coordinator Steve Spagnuolo and an overhauled group can do their part.
And, really, can we take a paragraph to emphasize that point? The Chiefs looked faster, more aggressive and surer with tackles. They sacked Broncos quarterback Joe Flacco eight times and hit him several more times. They had nine sacks overall.
It’s just the Broncos, and Flacco, but still. Positive sign.
OK. Back to Mahomes. The most optimistic scenario: Mahomes returns this season and his teammates can navigate a difficult stretch of games — the next six are against the Packers, Vikings, Titans, Chargers, Raiders and Patriots — well enough to stay in the playoff race.
Old heads will remind you that Mike Livingston started six games for Len Dawson in 1969. The Chiefs won all six, and then won what is still their only Super Bowl championship.
But this is all new. Mahomes hadn’t missed a snap because of injury before Thursday, and everything the Chiefs have done the last two seasons from football operations to business moves has revolved around him.
He’s the reason the Chiefs gave receiver Sammy Watkins a big free-agent contract, and his presence amplified the urgency to fix the defense. The trade for Frank Clark was more palatable because the Chiefs expected their picks to be toward the end of each round.
Mahomes’ injury, well, it sucks. He is a joy to watch, a generational talent who stretches the boundaries of possibilities for quarterbacks. He is ruthlessly efficient while operating within a structured offense, and he’s also breathtaking on his own.
Without him, the Chiefs and football are both worse off.
But the season is not over. It can’t be. The NFL leaves no time for sad. Particularly if Mahomes is able to return this season, the rest of this group needs to play with pride and focus.
There has been a thought in some corners — including among some of those who make their living in pro football — that Mahomes’ transcendent talent covers so many mistakes and warts around him that it clouds the reality of everyone else’s contributions.
That can’t happen now.
Mahomes is among the most popular guys in the locker room. Much of that is owing to his absurd abilities, sure, but more than that he has a way of lifting those around him. He works hard enough to earn the respect of the crustiest coach, and is loose enough to hang with anyone.
Two weeks ago in Detroit, guys in the winning locker room shook their head at the cool Mahomes showed on a last-minute game-winning touchdown drive.
“We don’t have to do anything else other than be ourselves,” he had told them, and they believed, because why wouldn’t they?
His injury is about more than what it does to the football, then. The Chiefs will be without his infinite possibilities. They must make up for his energy. They can’t replace the confidence he provided, but the rest of their season depends largely on how close they can get.
This is a new team, in many ways.
And, depending on how long Mahomes is out, we could learn more about the Chiefs without him than with him.