No one believes for a minute that Patrick Mahomes won’t play in Sunday night’s AFC championship game against the Buffalo Bills, concussion protocols or no concussion protocols. Which again makes one wonder just how strictly those protocols are followed.
Mahomes’ coach, old-school Andy Reid, admitted Monday that in the pre-protocol days it is highly likely Mahomes would have returned to play last Sunday against the Cleveland Browns, even though he was staggering around like a punch-drunk fighter after cracking his head on the turf in the third quarter while being wrestled to the ground.
“There was a chance back in the day that Patrick comes back in [the game],” Reid told reporters Monday. “You saw him run up the tunnel. By the time he got to that point he was feeling pretty good. But there's a certain protocol you have to follow, and that takes it out of the trainer's hand and the player's hand and the doctor's hand."
Fortunately, it also takes it out of the coaches’ hands.
Yet for all the NFL’s chest thumping about its concussion protocols and its concern for player safety nobody believes there is a chance in hell that Mahomes, who heard the sound of wind chimes between his ears last Sunday, won’t be under center Sunday night. With a chance to take his defending Super Bowl-champion Chiefs back to the Super Bowl his miraculous “recovery’’ seems assured, and the Bills know it.
“This is the AFC championship,’’ Bills’ cornerback Tre’Davious White said this week. “This is the game to go to the Super Bowl. We know all their best players are going to be out there. We're preparing for Mahomes to be there, which we know he will."
Notice neither Reid nor White said he’ll be fit as a fiddle or concussion-symptoms free. They just said in the old days he would have played and in this New Day he will play. So there you have it. Look at the new days, just like the old days.
The Chiefs have conveniently never said whether Mahomes suffered a concussion. They’ve only said he’s in concussion protocol, which technically isn’t the same thing -- although one wonders why you’d be in it if you hadn’t been concussed. Truth is, anyone who saw Mahomes struggle to get up, wobbling and weaving with his legs as firm as cooked vermicelli knows damn well he was concussed. The fact that he later ran down the tunnel doesn’t mean a damn thing.
Much of my life has been spent in and around boxing rings. I’ve seen many men knocked stiff, quite literally in some cases. Few stumbled worse than Mahomes when they tried to get up. If he wasn’t concussed, I don't have fingers to type this story.
According to the NFL, the median length of time for a concussed quarterback to return to play in the last five years has been seven days. That is quite convenient since the average length of time between NFL games is, shocker, seven days. Can you imagine that?
This is not to say Mahomes can’t be symptom-free by Sunday. It’s just to say protocols or no protocols it won’t matter unless he is so deep in a fog he looks like a character walking the cliffs in “Wuthering Heights.’’
Winning football games is important and winning championships even more so at the level Mahomes is, which is the pinnacle of the sport. If he wants to rush back in, and the Chiefs want to risk their franchise player after seeing him on Queer Street a week ago that’s up to them. Just save the bologna about independent doctors “approving’’ his return without interference from the league or the team. If you believe that you probably believe a guy can lose a Presidential election by eight million votes and still win by a landslide.
Patrick Mahomes is a transcendent player. He is the Chiefs’ best chance to return to the Super Bowl, a fact even his backup Chad Henne, would agree with. That’s why he’ll start the game Sunday.
Is that the proper medical decision? Only the Chiefs’ medical staff and Mahomes will know for sure. But outside of the NFL the return-to-play protocols are pretty clear. A guy staggering and falling back down the way Mahomes did would not be playing a football game seven days later. But the NFL’s return-to-play protocols do not require a concussed player sit out at least a game. This is a convenience in a situation like this, but it is clearly not the best medicine.
Wednesday the Chiefs’ initially listed Mahomes as a full participant in their practice but later “amended’’ it saying he was limited to light work. Was this simply a clerical error, or did someone say to the Chiefs, “Psst, he shouldn’t be fully active yet under the protocols.’’
We’ll never know that, either. The only thing we know is, sadly, Patrick Mahomes will play Sunday, come hell or high water…or pounding headache.
For all the changes and improvements the NFL has made to try and stem the rising tide of concussions it is only in situations like this that their resolve is tested. The Buffalo Bills already know how that test will come out.