The Kansas City Chiefs pulled out all the stops for Sunday Night Football — including turning fans’ phones into an interactive light show. The team wore the red-on-red jerseys and inducted Brian Waters into the Ring of Honor. Patrick Mahomes rolled into Arrowhead in a Monarchs jersey.
It was shaping up to be a special night.
The first quarter started slow. The Chiefs’ first drive stalled, resulting in a mere field goal. Things were destined to pick up, though... right? The Chiefs have been a second-quarter team for some reason. And briefly... they did.
We did get a brief cameo of some of the things a healthy Mahomes is capable of doing (more on that tomorrow). He was sharp for the entirety of the first quarter; his best pass was a drop in the end zone by Damien Williams.
It looked like things were starting to trend in the right direction for the quarterback’s ankle injury, too; he was starting to move the way we’re accustomed to seeing.
Sunday Night Football was about to be a game where the Chiefs announce their presence with authority. The conversation was on the precipice of hope: “Just wait until they get Tyreek Hill and Sammy Watkins back.”
We got healthy Mahomes for like a quarter and then the OL was like pic.twitter.com/epHjAOA9aO— Kent Swanson (@kent_swanson) October 7, 2019
Then as quickly as it left the first time, we were robbed of the full Mahomes experience — and after that, everything went wrong.
There were plenty of things to blame for the loss on Sunday: penalties, run defense, pass defense... you name it. The dirty laundry was aired out on national television; every flaw of the team was magnified.
But if Mahomes’ ankle hadn’t been rolled up and re-aggravated, none of those things would have mattered.
The two costliest plays on Sunday night were the two that limited the reigning MVP for the game and possibly beyond. Two games in the next ten days for the Chiefs, and Mahomes will likely be limping through them. These two don't happen, they win this game. pic.twitter.com/DBtO3IpyCV— Kent Swanson (@kent_swanson) October 8, 2019
This is bad — and it could be something that extends beyond this week. Both of these plays were avoidable.
On the first play, the Colts get a free shot on Mahomes that ultimately ends with his leg being rolled up. Cameron Erving gives help to Andrew Wylie (with no immediate threat) as Blake Bell chips defensive end Kemoko Turay on his way out to his route.
At the top of his drop, Mahomes hitches up, Turay loops back inside to give the quarterback an unimpeded shot that leads to a caught foot on the hit. Wylie likely could have fallen off defensive lineman Denico Autry to get enough of Turay to avoid that hit.
The second play is Erving being walked back into Mahomes, ultimately stepping on his foot, resulting in a heavy limp that stuck around for the duration of the game.
With the injury sustained by Wylie, the Chiefs offensive line is now hobbled even worse; it’s going to be a big challenge until Eric Fisher gets back. Meanwhile, the damage has been done. Mahomes’ mobility could potentially be affected for multiple weeks.
Despite all the injury issues, the Colts’ upset might not have happened. Mahomes still had enough to turn a third-and-28 into a manageable fourth down.
#SomethingGood ("but, but Pringle" - chill folks it was a good play) Mahomes is hobbled on 3rd and 28, but still manages to step up after feeling backside pressure and finds Pringle across the field who makes one guy miss and yes, probably could have ran outside for a first down. pic.twitter.com/aSi05K4Bve— Kent Swanson (@kent_swanson) October 8, 2019
Here, Mahomes has enough mobility to step up and move out of the pocket into the boundary after feeling back side pressure. He sees Byron Pringle across the hash marks and delivers the ball across the field.
What’s impressive is that Pringle isn’t particularly open when Mahomes throws the ball. He just knows there’s clearance between him and Pringle; he’s challenged on plays similar to this. With the receiver working back to the ball, it’s a relatively low risk play.
Pringle catches it, makes his defender miss and starts working upfield toward the first down marker. He briefly cuts up as if he’s going inside Travis Kelce’s blocking — and that hesitation is enough to prevent him from getting the first down.
Had he continued to run wide and toward the sideline, he likely would have picked it up. I’m not being too harsh on him in this situation, but there probably was a place for him to get that extra yard. Instead, the drive stalled on fourth-and-1.
The effort to make this play possible was spoiled.
#SomethingBad So many things to choose from this week. Bring a 3rd and 28 to a 4th and 1. Banged up offensive line, and none of the players having success even got a chance to touch it. pic.twitter.com/2sPwWMgJvq— Kent Swanson (@kent_swanson) October 8, 2019
To this point, the Chiefs had run the football with minimal success — but to be fair, earlier in the game, they had converted a fourth-and-1 on a run play to Anthony Sherman. However, the complexion of the group blocking was different.
Here, Andrew Wylie is out, Ryan Hunter is in and trying to pull around on power. Erving has to get enough of Colts defensive end Justin Houston to cut off the back side of the play. He gives help inside but is too late to touch the former Chief. Houston makes the play behind the line of scrimmage — and a critical drive ends in a turnover on downs.
In fairness, Damien Williams may not have found space to get that final yard on the front side of the run. However, this play is a microcosm of the night for the left side of the offensive line.
Mahomes can only do so much. He’s gutting it out every week. His ability to bail out bad protection — or mistakes he’s made in setting that protection — with his mobility and creativity has been reduced to a minimum. With some difficult opponents looming on the schedule — and a stretch that will see the Chiefs play two games in ten days — his movement skills have taken what could be a significant hit . Hill and Watkins’ return will help, but until they’re back, the margin for error is slim.
And no matter what else happens, the offensive line has to get better.