Patrick Mahomes will start for the Kansas City Chiefs against the Tennessee Titans on Sunday, just over two weeks after the quarterback's season was jeopardized by a dislocated kneecap.
Mahomes never missed a practice after hurting his knee on a Thursday night against Denver, even though some thought the seriousness of the injury could sideline the league MVP for months.
But it turned out there was no structural damage, and it became a waiting game to see when Mahomes would return. He practiced on a limited basis the first week before being ruled out against Green Bay, then was limited again last week before being inactive against Minnesota.
"We knew how we've been doing the whole process of the injury," Mahomes said after Friday's practice. "I knew I had a chance once I talked to all those doctors, and they said that as long as I was functioning well, moving well, that I could play this week."
Matt Moore started the past two games for Kansas City. The journeyman had been coaching high school football when the Chiefs lost backup Chad Henne to a broken ankle in the preseason and gave him a call. Moore wound up playing solidly in losing to the Packers and beating the Vikings.
His performances, along with improved play from the defensed, helped to keep the Chiefs (6-3) atop the AFC West and in the hunt for a first-round playoff bye while Mahomes was out.
"Unless something happens here, he'll be the guy that plays," Reid said of Mahomes, who had been eager to play. "You can go whatever direction you want to go with it. I'm going to see after this practice, but right now, that's what it looks like."
Mahomes has thrown for 2,180 yards with 15 touchdowns and one interception through six-plus games, building on his record-setting debut as the starter. Even after missing more than two games, Mahomes is tied for seventh in the league in TD passes and is second in quarterback rating.
His injury occurred on the most innocuous of plays. The Chiefs were deep in Denver territory and facing fourth-and-short, and Reid called for a sneak. Mahomes plunged forward and easily picked up the first down, but as body after body came off the pile, the young quarterback was left on the turf clutching his right knee.
Doctors and trainers rushed onto the field, and television cameras showed one of the physicians jerk the kneecap back into place. Mahomes then limped off the field and straight to the locker room.
"I just knew I couldn't straighten my leg," Mahomes said. "The doctors came out and put it back in, and I took those first few steps. I was gingerly walking, but then I realized I didn't really have much pain at all, if any, so I walked off the field and got the exams."
Mahomes had X-rays taken at the field that confirmed the dislocation. But the Chiefs didn't know Mahomes had escaped potentially serious damage to tendons and ligaments until the following day in Kansas City. Head trainer Rick Burkholder said an MRI exam was "as good as we can possibly imagine," and Chiefs officials hoped Mahomes would return before their bye week.
After visiting Tennessee on Sunday, they head to Mexico City to face the Chargers the following week, before finally getting their bye. That would give Mahomes two weeks to test out his knee, then a much-needed week off to rest and recover before the final stretch.
"It was kind of a fluke thing," said Mahomes, who will be wearing a brace on the right knee. "I guess I'll always be a tad higher (risk of dislocating it) than the regular person, but whenever you're on that football field, there's always a chance of injury. As long as I'm functioning, I'm moving around the right way, I can go out and play."
The Chiefs are poised to be as healthy as they've been since Week 1 on Sunday. Left tackle Eric Fisher (groin) and defensive end Alex Okafor (ankle) are the only players ruled out.
Top pass rusher Frank Clark, who had missed a couple of games with a neck injury, is expected back after practicing on a limited basis this week. Also expected back are right guard Laurent Duvernay-Tardif (ankle) and cornerback Kendall Fuller (thumb), both of whom practiced all week.
"It's a long season. We still have a lot to go," Mahomes said. "But every single day it seems like we're getting better in every aspect of the game. You want to do that. Obviously, we went through a stretch where we lost games that we didn't want to, but we now see that everyone is pulling together and building together and I'm excited for the rest of the season."
READY AND WAITING: Moore threw for 275 yards and a TD in leading the Chiefs to a 26-23 win over Minnesota last week, and he's had at least 250 yards passing and a 100 or higher passer rating in what he called a wild couple of weeks.
"I've learned a lot," Moore said. "So what it means moving forward is that I have to be ready to go at all times and who knows what the future holds. In this league, you never know. I'm trying to be the best I can be every day and that is all."
GIVE IT TO HENRY: The Titans have been shut out in the first half four times this season – all losses. A bigger issue in Carolina was that Henry ran only twice before halftime, though he still finished with 99 yards from scrimmage and two touchdowns thanks to a big drive to open the third quarter.
Now Tennessee has another chance to run against a Chiefs' defense that ranks 29th against the run. Kansas City has allowed at least 180 yards rushing four times this season, though the Chiefs have held their last three opponents to 118 yards or fewer. Still, running Henry early and often would give the Titans a chance to get their offense back on track.
"We want to get him carries, get him going early, set the tone that way, and then play off of that," Titans quarterback Ryan Tannehill said.
REID VS. TITANS: Only Bill Belichick has more wins than Reid among active coaches, yet Reid is 1-7 all-time against the Titans, including 0-4 with Philadelphia. He's 1-3 with the Chiefs, and his lone win came in 2013. Reid has lost three straight to two different Titans coaches. This will be his first game against Titans coach Mike Vrabel, who played his last two seasons in the NFL with Kansas City.
CLEAN UP THE MISTAKES: The Titans have hurt themselves more than the opponent has in their losses. Too often penalties have wiped out big gains, and they had three turnovers last week. They've also allowed an NFL-worst 38 sacks, and the combination of issues has made it tough to clean everything up.
"Eliminate the dumb things that we can control like the technique, the fundamental stuff," Tannehill said. "When it comes down to execution, just execute and we'll be in good shape."