Once Patrick Mahomes began limping on Sunday Night Football, the Chiefs went limp too. Kansas City’s 19-13 loss to the Indianapolis Colts on Sunday was their first of the year, and it exposed that the Chiefs can’t easily run the ball, stop the run, stop the pass, or do much of anything without incurring double-digit penalties. The Chiefs lean on Mahomes to carry the load; they’re ill-equipped to stand on their own feet.
On Kansas City’s first two drives, Mahomes completed 13 of 17 passes for 157 yards and a touchdown. On his ensuing seven drives, he completed nine of 22 passes for 164 yards and no scores. In that stretch Mahomes tweaked his left ankle twice, including when offensive lineman Cam Erving stepped on it near the Chiefs’ end zone with less than two minutes left in the third quarter.
Mahomes was clearly in pain afterward, and showed limited mobility on his subsequent plays. This was a reaggravation of an injury he suffered in Week 1, when he rolled his left ankle against Jacksonville but stayed in that game, albeit with a slight limp. He’s been listed on the injury report every week since with an ankle injury, but has been a full participant in each Chiefs practice since. His ankle was heavily taped on Sunday night, though Mahomes wasn’t significantly hindered until he tweaked it again. ESPN’s Jeff Darlington reported that Mahomes said he thought it would be sore this week but was unsure whether it would cause any missed time. Matt Moore is his backup.
Mahomes on his ankle: “I just re-aggravated it in the first half and got stepped on in the second half. I was going to battle through it regardless.” ...Expects plenty of soreness and treatment this week. No sense from him on whether this could cause any missed time.— Jeff Darlington (@JeffDarlington) October 7, 2019
With Mahomes at less than 100 percent, the Chiefs as a whole struggled. Running back Damien Williams had nine carries for 23 yards, barely more than Mahomes’s three carries for 17 yards. Tight end Travis Kelce had four catches for 70 yards, nearly lost a fumble, and then lost his cool when he pushed offensive coordinator Eric Bieniemy on the sideline (cameras later caught the two reconciling). Running back LeSean McCoy lost a fumble on just two touches for 23 yards. Kansas City’s 324 total yards were the second fewest the team has accrued since Mahomes became the starter in 2018, and their 13 points marked the first time they scored fewer than 26 since November 2017. Mahomes told reporters after the game that the Colts, a predominantly zone coverage team, used man coverage most of the night, mimicking what the Patriots did in the AFC championship game and what Detroit did last week in the Chiefs’ 34-30 win. Receiver Tyreek Hill could return to game action as soon as next week after injuring his shoulder in Week 1, and his presence would significantly help the Chiefs against man coverage defenses.
Other than his ankle, the biggest hindrance to Mahomes was how little the Chiefs had the ball. Indianapolis dominated time of possession, 37:15 to 22:45 on Sunday, the sixth lowest amount of time the Chiefs have had the ball in the regular season or playoffs since Andy Reid became the coach in 2013. The Chiefs couldn’t get the Colts off the field because Kansas City couldn’t stop the run. Indianapolis ran 45 times for 180 yards (4.0 yards per carry), 12 first downs, and a touchdown. On one glacial drive, the Colts traveled just 35 yards on 14 plays and settled for a field goal but took more than eight and a half minutes off the clock by running nine consecutive times.
“I didn’t know this kind of football still existed in the NFL,” announcer Cris Collinsworth said during the drive.
It was par for the course for a Chiefs run defense that came into the night giving up a league-leading 5.9 yards per attempt. Kansas City brought in defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo, traded away defensive end Dee Ford, and traded for defensive end Frank Clark precisely to be better against long, meandering, and clock-eating scoring drives. Sunday night showed that little has changed.
One of the best defensive performances on Sunday night came from a former Chief: Colts defensive end Justin Houston. Kansas City released Houston, who is fourth all time in sacks for the Chiefs franchise, to save $14 million of cap space. Houston signed with Indianapolis shortly afterward, and in his revenge game on Sunday he had one sack and two tackles for loss in his best game of the season.
Mahomes was one of several Chiefs who were injured during the game. Receiver Sammy Watkins (hamstring), defensive tackle Chris Jones (groin), defensive tackle Xavier Williams (ankle), linebacker Anthony Hitchens (groin), and left guard Andrew Wylie (ankle) all left with injuries during the contest.
If the injuries weren’t enough, the Chiefs also self-inflicted plenty of punishment. In a penalty-happy contest where officials threw 18 flags for 175 penalty yards, the Chiefs accounted for 11 and 125, respectively. Kansas City led the league in penalties and penalty yards last season, giving them little benefit of the doubt. They were also the beneficiary of a deeply questionable offensive pass interference penalty on Colts receiver T.Y. Hilton.
The Colts rise to 3-2 with Sunday’s win, tied with the Texans for first in the AFC South, and they get their bye week to prepare for Houston’s visit to Indianapolis in Week 7. It’s a far cry from last year when the Colts entered Week 7 1-5 and on a four-game losing streak.
Like Indianapolis, Kansas City will be hosting the Texans in their next game, and they will have their hands full. Just as the Chiefs’ offensive powers are ebbing, the Texans are soaring after one of the best games of Deshaun Watson’s career and just the second game since he was drafted that he was not sacked. It will be difficult for Kansas City’s cornerback group, the cheapest in the league by percentage of salary cap, to stop Watson from skewering the Chiefs defense. It’s more likely the Chiefs will need Mahomes to keep up with Watson in a back-and-forth scoring game, and that should—in theory—make this one of the most exciting games of the year. But if Patrick Mahomes isn’t Patrick Mahomes, the Chiefs won’t be the Chiefs.