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Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes has been cleared to play in the AFC Championship game, he said Friday afternoon.
“I actually just got out of the (concussion) protocol,” Mahomes said in a Zoom news conference. “Talking to the doctors and going through all the tests, we believe there will be no lingering effects and I’ll be able to go out there and be myself and be who I am every single week.”
The Chiefs host the Buffalo Bills on Sunday at Arrowhead Stadium.
Mahomes sustained a concussion last week in a divisional win over the Cleveland Browns. He had scrambled on third-and-1 during a third-quarter option play when linebacker Mack Wilson wrapped him just short of the chains. The tackle appeared to go awry. Mahomes rolled over, then pressed the ground, attempting to stand. He instead wobbled, and his eyes appeared out-of-focus as he was helped off the field.
Patrick Mahomes was hurt late in the third quarter. (Photo: Denny Medley, USA TODAY Sports)
“I ran it out to the right, obviously got hit, tried to get up, felt my legs go out,” Mahomes said Friday, his first public comments since the game. “Knew that wasn’t a good thing, so I was able to get grabbed. I remember before coming off the field I was telling the trainers to let me stay there so (backup quarterback) Chad (Henne) could warm up, because I knew we were about to go for it on that fourth down.”
Instead, he was evaluated in a sideline medical tent, then the locker room, and ruled out shortly after as he entered NFL concussion protocol. Henne, a 13-year NFL journeyman, replaced Mahomes and completed 6-of-8 passes for 66 yards and an interception. Henne was sacked with 2:33 to play, the game on the line, when he barreled 13 yards to set up fourth-and-1. Reid keyed up a quick pass to speedy receiver Tyreek Hill in the flat. Henne converted. The Chiefs won. And Mahomes, from concussion protocol in the locker room, tweeted an iconic “#HenneThingIsPossible.”
Henne said this week he would prepare like he’s starting, just in case. Hill said the team would rise to the occasion for whomever was behind center as it did in the 22-17 win over Cleveland.
But as of Friday afternoon, Mahomes was expected to start as Kansas City becomes the first team to host three straight AFC Championship games. The Chiefs also hope to defend their Super Bowl title, which no team has done since the Patriots in 2004 and 2005.
Mahomes said the left toe injury he sustained against the Browns had improved. It was “very sore” on Sunday and Monday, “then every single day since then has gotten a lot better.”
Regarding the concussion, Mahomes said feedback from “three to four different doctors” was positive. The NFL’s five-phase concussion protocol progresses players from symptom-limited activity to aerobic exercise to football-specific exercise for 30 minutes or less. Club-based, non-contact training drills are the step immediately before full football activity clearance. An independent neurological consultant must examine a player before he is cleared.
Mahomes was able to “take all the snaps” on Wednesday, coach Andy Reid said, when the Chiefs ran a walkthrough-intensity practice. He practiced Thursday and Friday as well, undergoing his clearance evaluation following Friday’s practice.
Reid was asked for concussion protocol updates on Mahomes and cornerback Bashaud Breeland just before Mahomes’ evaluation. “They look and act normal,” the coach said, “But I rely on docs. I’m not a medical expert.”
Within the hour, Mahomes confirmed that medical experts agreed.
“You want to be out there, but you have to go through the protocol and do everything the right way,” Mahomes said. “You have to look at it long-term as much as you look at it short-term. This week has been a bunch of testing and a bunch of different things to make sure I’m good to go and there’s no lingering effects.
“Everything’s looked well, and I’m out of it now.”
Follow USA TODAY Sports’ Jori Epstein on Twitter @JoriEpstein