The NFL was without its reigning Most Valuable Player for a few weeks. Thankfully, that’s about to change.
Patrick Mahomes, one of the league’s most electric young stars and a frontrunner to defend last year’s MVP award, left a Week 7 win over the Denver Broncos with a knee injury. The third-year quarterback had to be helped off the field in the second quarter after a fourth-and-inches sneak gave the Chiefs a fresh set of downs — but cost them the heart of their offense in the process.
He’ll make his triumphant return in Week 10 against the Titans.
When the injury first occurred, Mahomes was quickly ruled out against the Broncos after walking to the locker room. Replays showed his team’s training staff working on his right knee before picking him up from the turf.
Fortunately, an MRI showed it was a dislocated kneecap, and there are no fractures or other significant damage in the afflicted leg.
The MRI has confirmed the #Chiefs QB Patrick Mahomes suffered a dislocated kneecap, but not significant additional damage, sources tell me and @JamesPalmerTV. He’ll seek additional opinions to be sure. The plan is for him to return this season after a brief absence.— Ian Rapoport (@RapSheet) October 18, 2019
No official timetable emerged for Mahomes’ recovery, but he was already back at practice less than a week after suffering the injury. Still, he was ruled out of Weeks 8 and 9.
Mahomes was seen with a brace on his knee after the Broncos game, and NFL Network’s Jesse Palmer said there was some initial optimism about Mahomes’ diagnosis, as did Mahomes himself:
Mahomes’s absence threatened to be a significant blow to the Chiefs, but Matt Moore led the team to a 1-1 record, including win over the Vikings. It’s undoubtedly a good thing that Mahomes is back, though.
Losing the MVP, no matter for how long, sucks for Kansas City. It also sucks for anyone who likes a unique brand of football that occasionally borders on superhuman.
[Draft Kings Nation: If you have Patrick Mahomes in fantasy football, read this]
No quarterback in the league can replace what Mahomes does
Mahomes’ big arm and penchant for highlight-reel plays made him a perfect fit in Reid’s freewheeling offense. Surrounded by lightning-quick wideouts and a do-everything tight end, the 2017 first-round pick was a revelation in his first season as a starter last fall.
Mahomes’ ability to scramble out of trouble and improvise put him on a God Tier among NFL quarterbacks in just one full year behind center. He could extend plays long enough for his receiving help to find gaps, then launch pinpoint rifle shots downfield as though he were standing still. He’d fake out defenses with no-look passes. He could convert third downs with his left, non-dominant hand.
That led to a 5,097-yard, 50-touchdown campaign in 2018 and a runaway MVP award. And somehow he was more prolific through the first six weeks of 2019. He’d set career highs in passing yards per game (350.7) and yards per pass (9.1) while on pace for a career low in interception rate (just one in 230 attempts, and it was kinda due to some nonsense). On Thursday, he became the first player to pass for 7,500 yards in his first 24 games — besting Kurt Warner’s old record of 27.
But there was one big concern in the middle of that big start. An ankle injury suffered in the opening week of the season resurfaced in each of his last three games, robbing him of some of his mobility and leading to his three worst starts of the year as the Chiefs went on a 1-2 skid. He was looking to snap a two-game losing streak — and had completed 10 of his 11 passes with a touchdown — when he was forced out of game in Denver.
That turned the offense over to Matt Moore, who is absolutely not Patrick Mahomes.
What can Matt Moore do in Mahomes’ stead?
Moore has traditionally been one of the league’s better backup quarterbacks. He’s only started more than five games in a season just once in a 12-year career, but he’s got a respectable 15-15 record in those games, split between the Panthers and Dolphins.
However, his last start came in 2017 — a season where he threw more interceptions (five) than touchdowns (four). He’s also 35 years old now, so it’s fair to expect a little bit of dropoff from an aging passer who had thrown only a single pass in his last 22 games before Thursday night. Moore didn’t even expect to play football this year; he’d spent much of the offseason as a member of Miami’s coaching staff and was only signed by Kansas City in August after Chad Henne went on injured reserve.
But Moore has also never played with a receiving corps as talented as the one he’ll sling passes to in western Missouri. He’ll have the chance to work with a pair of All-Pros in wideout Tyreek Hill and tight end Travis Kelce. Rookie Mecole Hardman is averaging 18 yards per catch and hauled in a 21-yard touchdown pass from Mahomes before the QB left the game. Sammy Watkins hasn’t been able to match his Week 1 explosion (nine catches, 198 yards, three touchdowns), but should provide additional support once he’s back to full strength after missing the last two games. Byron Pringle and Demarcus Robinson are both depth options who are each capable of putting up 100+ yard games.
Moore played well in relief of Mahomes against the Broncos, albeit in more of a caretaker role. He finished 10 of 19 for 117 yards and threw this touchdown, on this nicely placed ball he dropped in to Hill:
The Kansas City offense scored on two of Moore’s drives, while the defense dominated in a 30-6 win in Denver.
Going forward, the question with Moore is whether he can be the guy who outplayed Ryan Tannehill and had a 105.6 passer rating for the 2016 Dolphins, or if he’s the quarterback who threw more interceptions than touchdowns and averaged an Osweiler-ian 6.8 yards per attempt in the season after.
Who else can the Chiefs sign or promote to either back up Moore or replace him?
The current free agent quarterback market is thin, though the XFL Draft just dug up a bunch of names who’d likely jump at the chance to sling passes to Hill, Kelce, and Hardman. Former starters who aren’t signed heading into Week 7 include:
- Cody Kessler
- Tom Savage
- Kevin Hogan
- and Matt Cassel
There is another name who could give a contending Chiefs team a boost behind center. Colin Kaepernick hasn’t played a snap in the NFL since 2016, but has reportedly kept in game shape while waiting for a team willing to even give him a workout. He still wants to play football — but the question is whether Kansas City will be willing to reach out to the famously divisive former NFC champion.
For now, the club has decided to look in-house for its backup to Moore. Rookie Kyle Shurmur, an undrafted free agent out of Vanderbilt, was promoted from the practice squad before Week 8 in order to serve as the team’s understudy. The prospect had 50 touchdown passes his final two years with the Commodores, and while he underwhelmed in the preseason he’s a useful asset for an emergency role in Missouri.
What does this mean for the rest of the NFL?
The Chiefs are 5-2, but the longer Mahomes is out, the more the AFC West could be back up for grabs. That’s good news for the Chargers, Raiders, and Broncos. The Chiefs’ division rivals will have the chance to pull the defending champions of the group back to earth. Oakland, out to a surprising 3-3 start, could affirm Jon Gruden’s expansive rebuild by pushing its way to the top of the division. A Mahomes injury would likely give Los Angeles a much-needed break after the Chargers shot themselves in the foot repeatedly to start the season 2-5.
Denver, at 2-5, probably has too many flaws to overcome this year, but hey, maybe the Broncos will surprise us.
This injury, as bleak as it is for the Chiefs, could be beneficial for the NFC North. Their next two games are circled dates on the calendars of the Packers and Vikings, respectively. While this means the cruel indifference of the football gods has robbed us of the first (and possibly only) Patrick Mahomes-Aaron Rodgers shootout as well as a showcase against Minnesota’s solid defense, it also means the top of a stacked division may only get stronger.
And then there’s the rest of the AFC, which looked like a two-team race after Week 4 but now appears firmly in New England’s control. Any losses Kansas City takes under Moore’s guidance will dig a deeper hole in the battle for homefield advantage come playoff time. While a Week 14 trip to Foxborough will provide an opportunity to close that gap, the Patriots’ easy schedule and dominant defense may make Mahomes’ injury too big an obstacle to overcome in the race for the top spot in the conference.
Ultimately, the MRI showed a crisis was averted by the Chiefs. But even losing Mahomes for a couple weeks was a massive loss not only for Kansas City but also anyone who loves watching a borderline superhero throw footballs into orbit.
We’ll have more updates as they become available.