Patrick Mahomes injury has revealed the Chiefs as true contenders

KANSAS CITY, MO - NOVEMBER 03: Kicker Harrison Butker #7 of the Kansas City Chiefs reacts after kicking a 44-yard field goal to beat the Minnesota Vikings 26-23 at Arrowhead Stadium on November 3, 2019 in Kansas City, Missouri. (Photo by Peter Aiken/Getty Images)
KANSAS CITY, MO - NOVEMBER 03: Kicker Harrison Butker #7 of the Kansas City Chiefs reacts after kicking a 44-yard field goal to beat the Minnesota Vikings 26-23 at Arrowhead Stadium on November 3, 2019 in Kansas City, Missouri. (Photo by Peter Aiken/Getty Images) /

The Kansas City Chiefs have proven themselves to be very real Super Bowl contenders in the face of losing Patrick Mahomes.

I’ve never felt so confident in the Kansas City Chiefs’ chances of winning it all as I did this past Sunday after a Matt Moore-led version of the team beat the Minnesota Vikings.

If any team can, in back-to-back weeks, keep it close against Aaron Rodgers‘ Green Bay Packers and then outplay and defeat the likely playoff-bound Vikings, that’s a fairly solid indicator things are trending in the right direction. But the Chiefs aren’t just any team. They’re a team that was not only down multiple starters on both sides of the ball, but was also sending out a quarterback who hasn’t taken many significant snaps since 2017.

The prospect of facing a healthy Chiefs team should terrify the rest of the league.

Patrick Mahomes hasn’t been truly healthy since rolling his ankle midway through the 2nd quarter of Week 1. Since then he continued to play at an MVP-if-not-for-Russell-Wilson level despite his ankle injury likely being worse than he or the Chiefs were letting on. Then, of course, Mahomes dislocated his knee and every Chiefs fan felt their world come crashing down.

But, in a rare bit of good luck for the Chiefs, Mahomes’ knees are apparently made of magic fairy dust and he’ll be back very, very soon. Mahomes is obviously the most valuable piece to the Chiefs’ Super Bowl puzzle, but getting everyone else out of the infirmary and back on the field is just as important. If everyone can get healthy as the season winds down, that may just be all they time they need to get everything to click into place for a Super Bowl run.

After the last two weeks, it goes without saying the Chiefs still have a coach operating at the peak of his powers in Andy Reid. If there ever was a perfect example of just how much great coaching elevates talent and just how much poor coaching poisons talent, it was the Chiefs beating the Vikings with Matt Moore the same week Baker Mayfield and the Cleveland Browns couldn’t even put up a reasonably competitive fight against the Denver Broncos.

Mayfeld isn’t as bad as his numbers say. The Browns aren’t as untalented as their record says. Freddie Kitchens simply isn’t who the Browns thought he was, and now they’re watching yet another mistake blow up in their face. The line between boom and bust for a young, talented quarterback is the quality of coaching they enter the league with. Mahomes is likely the sort of talent who would always find a way to some success, but even he likely couldn’t drag the mess that is the Browns into competency.

So on offense, yes, a lot of their Mahomes-less success has to do with Andy Reid scheming them for success. But the players still have to make the plays. No amount of system can make 35-year-old, high-school-football-coach-4-months-ago Matt Moore launching deep balls under pressure to Tyreek Hill, Sammy Watkins, and Travis Kelce unimpressive. No scheme guarantees a 91-yard Damien Williams touchdown run, much less with an offensive line missing two of their key starters.

What’s more impressive is the defense suddenly seeming to click. They don’t look like world-beaters, but they don’t have to. They certainly are looking like a unit that’s trending more toward the top half of the league than the bottom. I’m almost certain saying this will blow up in my face sooner rather than later, but it feels like this secondary of castoffs and undrafted free agents and Tyrann Mathieu is forming something resembling a competent coverage group.

They’re covering just long enough to allow the pass rush to have an impact—and that’s been without Frank Clark and, in part, without Chris Jones. It, of course, hasn’t been long enough for the season-wide numbers to reflect this shift, but something is undoubtedly different. Something is starting to come together for this defense. It’s like watching someone learning a new language, gradually each week expanding their vocabulary.

And all this has happened in the face of the worst luck. If the season came unravelled in tune with Mahomes’ knee, no one would blame them. It would have been chalked up as yet another team with all the potential in the world undone by injuries. Instead, now the Chiefs welcome Mahomes back knowing even more what they’re made of. They know with certainty they aren’t a team of one player.

There’s no such thing as moral victories in sports. You can learn from a loss, but it is still a loss. The loss to the Packers is still a loss, and it’s going to make a first-round playoff bye something the Chiefs have to do a bit of clawing for instead of something they can waltz into.

But that’s OK. The 2019 regular season has always been ostensibly an extended preseason for this team. Entering each year, a playoff berth is taken for granted at this point. All the ebbs and flows of the season bring is clues not to whether or not the Chiefs are contenders, but whether or not the Chiefs are future champions. After crossing the halfway point, I can confidently say this team has convinced me.

The Kansas City Chiefs are going to the Super Bowl.

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