Eight days of intensive treatment prepared Patrick Mahomes for the most important eight seconds of the AFC championship game.
Mahomes, who suffered a high ankle sprain last Saturday — an injury that typically takes three-to-six weeks to heal — somehow practiced in full all week. At times on Sunday, he hopped, limped and skipped around the field, clearly favouring his right ankle.
And in the game’s waning seconds, with no timeouts and the ball near midfield, he put his injury to the ultimate test.
Mahomes evaded one defender in the backfield and slid past two others to secure a first down and help set up the winning field goal. In addition to that skillful play on his feet, the MVP-in-waiting did plenty with his rocket arm — throwing for 326 yards and two touchdowns.
With a bad sprain, the fact that he played at all should not be overlooked. But the fact that he balled out, well, that’s what makes Mahomes who he is.
Oh, and as the Chiefs advance from their fifth straight AFC championship game to their third Super Bowl in four years, let’s not rush to change the name of their raucous stadium.
“Burrowhead my ass,” Chiefs tight end Travis Kelce blurted into a CBS microphone after the game. “It’s Mahomes’ house.”
Now that that’s settled, let’s get to the rest of our takeaways from the AFC and NFC title games.
Ossai, oh no
One side of Mahomes’ mad scramble was exuberance. The other was anguish.
The KC quarterback was already out of bounds when Bengals edge rusher Joseph Ossai gave him an ill-advised shove. Both players tumbled in a heap, and a yellow flag fell shortly thereafter.
A personal foul on Ossai gave the Chiefs the yards they needed to score the decisive field goal. And once that field goal went through, Ossai sat alone on the bench. Head in hands. Soft sobs with each exhale.
The second-year player had had a heck of a game, with five tackles, a pass breakup and a tackle for loss. One mistake washed it all away and will likely be all that’s remembered from his performance.
In fact, diehard Bengals fans aside, Sunday’s blunder might’ve been the first time you’d heard of Ossai. And if that’s the case, we’re here to tell you there’s more to his story.
Born in Nigeria, Ossai and his family immigrated to the U.S. in 2010 through the Diversity Immigrant Visa program. Their odds had been roughly 1 in 176. He’d never heard of football before moving to the states, and yet he rose to become a four-star recruit, a standout for the Texas Longhorns and a 2021 third-round pick by the Bengals.
For now, Ossai will be defined by one costly penalty. But there’s much more to the 22-year-old than that, as his career will hopefully reflect over time.
The Purdy predicament
Here’s a serious question that would’ve sounded silly two months ago: Who’ll be the 49ers’ QB1 at the start of next season … Trey Lance or Brock Purdy?
Jimmy Garoppolo’s pricey tenure with the team is finished, leaving only Purdy and Lance on the ledger. But that quarterback room still feels a little crowded.
Lance, the third-overall pick in 2021, was the anointed starter entering the year before suffering a season-ending ankle injury in Week 2. Purdy, the very last pick in 2022, became the last-resort starter in Week 14 and never stopped winning.
Until the NFC championship, that is, when Mr. Not-So-Irrelevant hurt his elbow on San Francisco’s first possession of the game.
There’s no sense in using Purdy’s conference title performance as a yardstick for his future with the 49ers. He was physically incapable of throwing, evidenced by the team’s steady diet of fourth-quarter handoffs while trailing by multiple scores.
Assuming Purdy’s injury isn’t a down-the-road problem, one could argue he’s earned the right to keep his starting post. A 7-0 record and 107.3 passer rating entering Sunday are awfully compelling lines on his resume.
And while San Francisco dished out a pair of first-round picks for the privilege of drafting Lance, that may not be enough reason to put the offence back in his hands.
Kyle Shanahan isn’t known to kowtow to the sunk-cost fallacy of draft capital. Just ask Brandon Aiyuk, or better yet, Trey Sermon. The 49ers’ quarterback job should be legitimately up for grabs.
Soar, Eagles, soar
We’d like to officially amend the Eagles’ fight song for this playoff run. The team is not merely flying, but rather soaring to the Super Bowl.
After enjoying a bye during the wild-card round, the NFC’s No. 1 seed laid waste to both of its opponents on the NFC side of the bracket. Philadelphia outscored the Giants and 49ers by 55 points, allowing just one touchdown apiece in those games.
Attrition is a key aspect of long football seasons, and the Eagles are ahead of the pack. They had zero players with injury designations for the conference championship, and now they’ll have another two weeks to recover before the big game.
The status of Jalen Hurts is the biggest question, as he admitted earlier this week that his sprained shoulder is still not 100%. But Hurts had no qualms about carrying the ball 11 times into the 49ers’ league-best run defence, and that’s a pretty good endorsement for how he feels.
On the field, Philly is cruising. On the mic, um … not so much.