Denver — Reigning MVP Patrick Mahomes injured his right knee in a pileup near the goal line before his Kansas City teammates rallied around their fallen superstar for a 30-6 thrashing of Denver on Thursday night.
Chiefs coach Andy Reid said after the game that didn’t know how serious the injury was, but added that, “We’re good with whatever direction this thing goes.”
Backup Matt Moore threw a 57-yard touchdown pass to Tyreek Hill and the Chiefs (5-2) had nine sacks, gave up a season-low 71 yards rushing and snapped a two-game skid in beating the Broncos (2-5) for the eighth straight time.
His balky left ankle heavily taped, Mahomes completed 10 of 11 passes for 76 yards and a touchdown, before getting injured on a successful sneak on fourth-and-inches at the Denver 5 early in the second quarter.
“Not too many people get hurt on a sneak,” Reid said. “It’s a freak thing.”
One by one, players peeled off the pile but when Mahomes didn’t get up , the stadium grew quiet, Broncos players knelt and some Chiefs stormed away in aguish as their quarterback ripped off his helmet and covered his face.
As players milled about nervously, the Chiefs’ medical personnel appeared to pop Mahomes’ right knee back in place before he was helped from the field and taken into the locker room. The Chiefs announced minutes later that Mahomes had a knee injury and wouldn’t return.
“Excited for the win,” Moore said after completing 10 of 19 passes for 117 yards. “At the same time, a guy like Patrick goes down it can be deflating.”
Before he got hurt, Mahomes became the fastest player in NFL history to throw for 7,500 yards, in his 25th game.
“You feel for anybody that has something that looks like it may be pretty serious,” Broncos quarterback Joe Flacco said. “That’s not just other quarterbacks; that’s everybody. But man, a young guy like that who’s starting off his career the way he has and starting off this season the way he has, it’s definitely not easy to watch guys go down with injuries like that. I hope that he’s all right.”
Mahomes didn’t speak with reporters after the game but he did lead the team’s “breakdown” after the game, when he praised Moore, who completed 10 of 19 passes for 117 yards, and the defense.
The Broncos had won two straight after a winless September and were hoping to turn the AFC West upside down by handling the Chiefs their third straight loss.
Coming in, the Chiefs were ranked 24th in the league with 11 sacks and they’d allowed an average of 190 yards rushing over their previous four games.
But the Chiefs sacked Flacco a career-high eight times , drew three holding flags on grabby left tackle Garett Bolles, held Denver to 1-of-13 on third downs and benefited from Denver’s poor special teams play and curious calls by coach Vic Fangio that backfired spectacularly.
When Flacco did stay upright to deliver deep passes, they fell incomplete. Rookie tight end Noah Fant dropped three passes that would have totaled more than 100 yards.
At one point, Fox NFL analyst Troy Aikman exclaimed, “This is about as bad an offense as I’ve seen. I’m shocked there’s as many people still here at the game.”
There weren’t for very much longer as the fans streamed to the exits with the never-ending bungled plays by the Broncos, especially the porous O-line that was jeered by frustrated fans.
The Chiefs even sacked punter Colby Wadman, who had nowhere to throw the ball on a failed fake punt that gave Kansas City the ball at the Broncos 38 on the drive that ended with Mahomes’ injury.
After Mahomes got hurt, Moore couldn’t get the Chiefs into the end zone on three plays from the 3, and Harrison Butker’s 20-yard field goal gave KC a 13-6 lead.
Flacco, who was sacked five times and knocked down eight more times in 15 first-half drop-backs, was sack-stripped by linebacker Anthony Hutchins on the next series and linebacker Reggie Ragland scooped up the loose ball at the 5 and rumbled into the end zone for a 20-6 halftime lead.
Brandon McManus missed a 45-yard field goal that sailed well above the top of the right upright.
The Broncos scored first after getting a reprieve on a three-and-out when Frank Clark’s face mask gave Denver a first down and Royce Freeman took it in from a yard out seven plays later. But Fangio decided to take the extra point off the board and go for 2 when Alex Okafor was whistled for encroachment.
Instead of handing the ball off to Freeman again, Fangio had Phillip Lindsay, who’s about 50 pounds lighter, pound the ball up the middle and he was stuffed, leaving the Chiefs celebrating instead and the crowd no longer buzzing.
Their 6-0 lead was short-lived as Mahomes somehow escaped the clutches of Von Miller and fired a pass that safety Will Parks tipped but Mecole Hardman reigned in anyway before avoiding sidestepping safety Kareem Jackson for a 21-yard score .
Hardman added a 37-yard punt return that led to a 33-yard field goal.
Steelers coach Mike Tomlin’s expression and the circumstances surrounding it summed up the plight of his injury-ravaged team perfectly.
“Seriously, guys?” Tomlin said when asked if Mason Rudolph would be the quarterback after being cleared of the NFL’s concussion protocol.
It’s a question that seemed preposterous six weeks ago. Of course, back then Ben Roethlisberger’s right elbow was healthy, Rudolph was simply relieved to beat out Josh Dobbs for the right to serve as Roethlisberger’s understudy and Devlin “Duck” Hodges was looking for work after being cut at the end of training camp.
How quickly things have changed. Roethlisberger has been relegated to the highest-paid mentor in the league after undergoing season-ending surgery in late September. Rudolph’s last appearance on the field ended with him being knocked unconscious against Baltimore while Hodges — an undrafted rookie free agent — became the first champion duck caller from Alabama to win his first NFL start.
For a team that spent most of the offseason looking to avoid drama — much of it manufactured — after Antonio Brown (Central Michigan) and Le’Veon Bell (Michigan State) left in the offseason, it somehow has found them anyway. And yet the Steelers (2-4) have tried to stay upbeat even with a revolving door under center and an offense that lacks the dynamic playmaking that once came so easily during the height of the “Killer B” era.
“We’re not in style point mode,” Tomlin said. “We’re not even in personality mode. We just need to do what is required to move the chains, to ring up the scoreboard, to score one more point than our opponent in an effort to win football games.”
Allow wide receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster to offer proof. Tasked with taking over as the top target following Brown’s departure, Smith-Schuster’s numbers have dipped drastically. A year removed from a 111-catch season, Smith-Schuster is on pace to barely reach half that total.
Yet last Sunday night in Los Angeles, with running backs James Conner and Benny Snell Jr. churning out yards and chewing up the clock against the Chargers, Smith-Schuster was in offensive coordinator Randy Fichtner’s ear telling Fichtner to keep the ball on the ground.
Okung happy to be back
Chargers offensive tackle Russell Okung didn’t hold back in describing what the past four months have been like for him and his family.
“I definitely looked death right in the face and if it had not been for a family that cared from my well-being despite my own resistance, I might not be here right now,” Okung said.
Okung took part in his first practice Thursday since June 1, when he suffered a pulmonary embolism during an offseason workout at the team facility.
He is being treated for blood clots and has been on the non-football injury list.
Okung does not need to be added to the active roster for up to three weeks as he continues to work his way back.
The 6-foot-5, 310-pound Okung said his main priority during the past few months was making sure the blood clots were treatable and that he could live a healthy life.
“I’ve always been an optimist, but family is a priority,” he said. “This is a combination of hard conversations with my family, internally looking at myself and making the decision that it did make sense to keep playing.
“ I don’t think anyone doubted that I could return, but I am grateful.”
Raiders defensive coordinator Paul Guenther lashed out at the NFL for the lengthy suspension the league handed to Raiders linebacker Vontaze Burfict for a helmet-to-helmet hit, one of a series of violations for which he has been punished.
“I think it was a witch hunt from the beginning quite honestly,” Guenther said. “Somebody at the league didn’t want him playing football and they got what they wanted.”