For the first time in two months, Joe Mays was happy about his work life Sunday. That much was obvious in the aftermath of the Chiefs’ 17-13 road victory at Buffalo.
It was the first time the 29-year-old inside linebacker had suited up for a regular season game this year, and after spending the afternoon contributing on the kickoff, kickoff return, punt and punt return units, Mays — who missed the first eight games with a right wrist injury — couldn’t stop smiling.
“You feel like you’re useless,” Mays said of his time on the bench. “You’re sitting on the sideline, you can’t do anything.”
Mays, who signed a two-year, $6 million deal this offseason, had been slated to start next to star Derrick Johnson this season. Both logged the majority of the snaps at the position in the Chiefs’ 3-4 defense this preseason, at least until the Chiefs’ second preseason game against Carolina.
That’s when Mays got hurt, he says, in a very fluky way just before halftime.
“It was just a crazy play,” Mays said. “I took on the fullback and I hit him. He was falling back and he pulled me down. I just tried to put my hand out to brace my fall and that’s when I felt something in my wrist.”
At first, Mays thought it would be a short-term thing.
“I’m thinking it’s a sprain, no problems,” Mays said. “Usually I can play through stuff like that. I felt it and said I could brush it off … but it was something different. I knew something was up and I just wanted to make sure before I went back in the game.”
Mays was later informed that he’d suffered a ligament injury in the wrist that would require surgery.
“We didn’t know until we got back to Kansas City, so the whole time I’m thinking it’s just a real bad sprain, and I’d miss a week, if that,” Mays said. “But there’s a lot of fast, strong guys in the league, and coming off surgery, I knew I had to get my strength and flexibility back before I was able get back on the field.
“A lot of people told me I would have been better off breaking my wrist. But at the same time, I did what I did and I had to let it run its course.”
Mays was placed on injured reserve with a designation to return, but the prognosis was eight to 10 weeks. So he could only watch as Johnson snapped his Achilles tendon in the season opener, leaving unproven backups Josh Mauga and James-Michael Johnson to man the middle.
“You just try to be there for support,” Mays said. “You talk to the young guys, make sure they know what’s going on when it comes to the game plan and try to help out anybody as much as possible.”
Mays admits he’s been impressed with the play of both players since then. Mauga leads the team in tackles with 62 and Johnson is fifth with 35.
“They’ve been playing great ball for us,” Mays said. “Hat’s off to them, they’ve been doing a great job for our defense.”
That’s why Mays, who has been practicing for two weeks now, says he’s okay playing in a reserve role — if that’s what the coaches want.
“I’m not a selfish player,” said Mays, who has been learning both inside positions. “I’m not one that will whine about playing time and all that stuff. I just do whatever I can to help the team out and if they want me in on defense, I’ll do that, too.”
Having the squatty Mays — who is listed at 5 feet 11 and 244 pounds and is regarded as a solid run defender — could certainly come in handy this week against Seattle.
The Seahawks boast the league’s No. 1 rushing offense and love giving the ball to Marshawn Lynch, a hard-charging north-south back who is coming off a 120-yard, four-touchdown game against the New York Giants.
Still, Chiefs coach Andy Reid seemed to hint Monday that Mays will continue to play in a reserve role while Mauga and Johnson man the middle for the Chiefs, 6-3.
“Well, those guys are playing well, so you don’t disrupt that,” Reid said “Everybody is going to play. You need everybody, especially this time of year.”
Reid, however, noted that he was happy to see Mays get back in the mix Sunday on special teams, where he showed good hustle all game long and recorded a tackle on punt coverage.
“I thought it was important that he got in and got used to the speed of the game again and he did that on special teams,” Reid said. “We will just see how it goes this week. Bob (Sutton) has all these different packages, so if he works in on one of those, he works in. If not, we will keep bringing him along.”
Mays, who didn’t log a defensive snap Sunday but played 22 special teams snaps (79 percent), is a competitor. But in many ways, he’s just happy to be pain free and back on the field, helping his team — cast on his right wrist and all.
“I haven’t played since August, since the preseason,” Mays said. “I just want to get in, get my feet wet. Get used to the movement of the game. It took me a little while to do that, but once I did, it was just about playing ball from there.”
Shortly after Mays said this Sunday, Chiefs chairman Clark Hunt approached him in the locker room and said he was glad he was back on the field.
Mays looked at him, smiled and said thank you.
“I definitely thought I would have been back earlier than now,” Mays said. “But at the same time, you’ve got to let the process take its course. The doctors, they stayed with me, they made sure I was right before I got back on the field. And right now, I feel great. So I’m definitely thankful they looked out for me.”