KANSAS CITY, Mo. —
Patrick Mahomes certainly deserved a game ball from Sunday night’s AFC title game, when the All-Pro quarterback dashed off on his sprained right ankle in the waning seconds to help set up the winning field goal.
Travis Kelce probably did, too. With the Chiefs missing three wide receivers because of injuries, the All-Pro tight end played through remnants of back spasms that nearly kept him out of the game entirely and finished with seven catches for 78 yards and a score.
The real MVP of the 23-20 win over the Cincinnati Bengals, though, might well have been longtime Chiefs trainer Rick Burkholder and his staff. It was Burkholder and fellow trainer Julie Frymyer who put together a plan to get Mahomes ready for the Bengals, then had to find a way to get Kelce ready when his back acted up 48 hours before kickoff.“I didn’t expect to be able to run very much,” Mahomes acknowledged. “The training staff, Julie, they did a great job of getting me enough range and mobility that I was able to protect myself, and then at the end of the game there, I had to run to get the first down and got us in field-goal range. So credit to them.”
Credit to them for Kelce, too.
“I wasn’t sure if I would be able to do it,” he said, “but we have the best training staff in the entire NFL. … I’m just very thankful and appreciative. I don’t know where I would have been, mentally, if I wasn’t able to play this game.”
One thing is certain: The Chiefs probably wouldn’t be preparing to face the Philadelphia Eagles in the Super Bowl.
The job is only beginning for Burkholder and his team, though.
Mahomes was limping badly by the end and will no doubt use the next two weeks to ready his ankle for one more game. Kelce will likewise use the time to rest his ailing back. Then there’s cornerback L’Jarius Sneed, who is in the concussion protocol; linebacker Willie Gay Jr. with an injured shoulder; and wide receivers Kadarius Toney (ankle), JuJu Smith-Schuster (knee) and Mecole Hardman (pelvis), all of whom watched the dramatic conclusion Sunday night from the sideline.
The training room might be the busiest place at Arrowhead Stadium before the Chiefs head to Phoenix next week.