The nature of a quarterback sneak involves the center finishing on the bottom of a dogpile, often flat on his stomach.
So early into the second quarter, when Chiefs center Austin Reiter heard the play call, he knew what would be coming. But the body weight remained on top of him for what he deemed too long, so he spoke up.
“Get off me!” he yelled.
Hold on. Stay still, he heard in response.
After a second or two, it clicked.
“I find out it’s Pat laying on my back,” Reiter said. “Worst case.”
At 7:10 p.m. local time here in Denver, Chiefs players, coaches and front-office personnel watched the moment that will alter their season, though to what extent isn’t yet known. As players walked back to the huddle for the next play, Mahomes remained on the ground with what was later discovered to be a dislocated kneecap. The severity of the injury will become more clear in the next 24 hours.
After initially trying to pull himself off Reiter, Mahomes seemed to know something wasn’t right. He yelled toward teammates as he pointed toward his knee.
Upon seeing it, wide receiver Tyreek Hill screamed into the air, ripped off his helmet and slammed it into the grass. After removing his own helmet and also bouncing it off the field, receiver Demarcus Robinson strolled toward the opposite end zone, eventually crouching 60 yards from where it all happened.
“It looked deformed,” Robinson said.
“It didn’t look like a knee,” tight end Travis Kelce said. “It was all out of whack. I can’t even describe it. You looked at it; you were like, ‘Oh, man, there’s something wrong with him.’”
“I don’t wanna express that,” Hill said when asked what he saw. “I don’t wanna think about that.”
Doctors appeared to pop the knee cap back into place as Mahomes covered his face. From the south tunnel, a cart drove onto the field, expecting to grab Mahomes as its passenger. But he refused it, Chiefs coach Andy Reid would later say.
“Our doctor was phenomenal calming everything down,” Reid said. “He calmed the storm right there.”
As players tapped his chest, Mahomes propped to his feet, slung his arms over the shoulders of Chiefs personnel and used their assistance to walk to the sideline. He made a right turn for the locker room, then shook off their aid.
“Man, I just gave him a hug, shook his hand and told him I’d pray for him,” offensive lineman Cam Erving said. “This is a league where things happen, and you gotta roll with the punches. Pat’s a tough guy, a great warrior and a leader.”
As Mahomes underwent x-rays, his father and girlfriend walked into the locker room. Chiefs players did not see him at halftime, they said, many of them left to fear the worst, wondering if the NFL reigning MVP would be lost for the season.
Reid said Friday that Mahomes had undergone a MRI exam but the results weren’t yet available.
“It’s a crazy thought,” Robinson said of his initial reaction. “Crazy moment. You don’t expect nothing like that to happen.”
The Chiefs won without him, a 30-6 final that seemed at best a footnote when it was over. Some players celebrated as they ran through the tunnel into the visitors’ locker at Empower Field at Mile High. When they arrived there, they were hoping to receive some sort of update. Perhaps from trainers. Perhaps word would just circulate.
But when they walked through the door, they saw a man in a black hoodie and gym shorts.
It was Mahomes.
They all huddled around him.
“Hey, take care of yourself this weekend,” he said, as captured by NFL Network cameras. “Enjoy yourself. Be smart.
“We got more to go, baby.”