The AFC championship game is set. And there’s plenty of intrigue surrounding the health of one team’s star quarterback.
Kansas City Chiefs starter Patrick Mahomes is dealing with a high-ankle sprain on his right leg that could affect his ability to play against Joe Burrow and the Cincinnati Bengals on Sunday (6:30 pm ET).
The AFC title game will be a matchup of last year’s affair, which saw the Bengals outlast the Chiefs in overtime to advance to the Super Bowl.
With Mahomes healthy, the Chiefs have been unable to beat the Bengals in three games during the last calendar year.
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With Mahomes hobbled, his injury is the NFL’s biggest storyline heading into conference championship weekend.
Here’s what Andy Reid said Monday
The Chiefs are taking Mahomes’ ankle injury day by day, with Mahomes intending to play against the Bengals, coach Andy Reid told reporters Monday.
“He mentioned to you, he’s going to play. So, that’s his mindset,” Reid said. “We’ll just take it day by day and see how he does.”
The Chiefs will practice on Wednesday, Thursday and Friday this week. But it remains unclear whether Mahomes practices or if he will participate in a limited fashion.
When asked if Mahomes could play Sunday without practicing, Reid said: “I think so. He’s never done that.”
Reid also added Mahomes has “done amazing things with limited time.”
Mahomes’ ankle injury is not as severe as the one he suffered during the opener of the 2019 season.
“This one isn’t quite as bad as that one,” Reid said. “But they’re similar – sore, but not quite the same.”
Asked about how Mahomes’ rehabilitation has gone since Saturday’s game, Reid said: “He’s worked hard in the treatment and is doing okay.”
How did Patrick Mahomes injure his right ankle?
Mahomes sustained the injury late in the first quarter of Kansas City’s 27-20 win over the Jacksonville Jaguars on Saturday.
Mahomes’ lower right leg was in the crossfire of a takedown by Jaguars linebacker Arden Key and defensive tackle Corey Peters. He did not want to exit the game.
Mahomes finished the drive, which ended with kicker Harrison Butker making a 50-yard field goal early in the second quarter.
Then, Chiefs coach Andy Reid forced Mahomes to get an X-ray and sit out the rest of the second quarter. Mahomes returned in the second half and finished the game.
“I’m not coming out of a playoff game unless they take me out,” Mahomes said. “I’m just going to play. I love this sport too much. I love this game.”
How did playing injured affect Patrick Mahomes?
Naturally, Mahomes’ ability to throw passes was affected by his heavily taped right foot planted in the ground, instead of being used as leverage on passing attempts. He also wasn’t as mobile.
The Chiefs had just one touchdown drive and scored two field goals, but punted four times with Mahomes playing injured.
“I just love competing in this sport,” Mahomes said. “Pain is pain, and you’re going to have to deal with it either way.”
What is a high ankle sprain?
A high ankle sprain is when you tear or damage the high ankle ligaments that connect the tibia to the fibula. A typical recovery time could last six to eight weeks, according to Cleveland Clinic.
Tony Romo, CBS analyst and former Dallas Cowboys quarterback who played with the injury, offered this insight during the end of the Bengals’ win over the Bills on Sunday:
“Will he play?” I think yes. He’s Patrick Mahomes. He’s young. You have the ability to get healthier faster. But at the same time, I just don’t know if he’s going to be able to be Patrick Mahomes,” Romo said.
“I can tell you right now: he’s not going to have the same athleticism that he had throughout most of the year. So you know that going in.”
Do the Chiefs have a backup plan for Patrick Mahomes?
Chiefs quarterback Chad Henne, a 37-year-old backup, played well during the second quarter of the win over the Jaguars, executing a 98-yard scoring drive that resulted in a touchdown.
Henne relied on several short passes to tight end Travis Kelce and a 39-yard run by running back Isiah Pacheco to get into the red zone.
Kelce ended the drive with a 1-yard touchdown catch from Henne for his first career touchdown pass in a playoff game.
“There’s a lot of great guys on our offense that really stepped up and helped my job a lot tonight,” Henne said after the game.
“Everybody trusted Chad. That’s the best part,” Reid said. “That’s the way he handles himself and the confidence the guys have in him. I thought they all stepped up.”
Look back on Bengals-Chiefs games
The Bengals have won their last three matchups against the Chiefs, and they have all been games decided by just three points.
Earlier this season, the Bengals beat the Chiefs 27-24 in Cincinnati. Kelce fumbled a catch from Mahomes in the fourth quarter, and Burrow threw an 8-yard touchdown to running back Chris Evans to steal the win.
In the AFC title game last season, Burrow the Bengals erased a 21-3 deficit and took a 24-21 lead with 6:04 left in the game. Butker kicked a 44-yard field goal to force overtime. The Bengals defense intercepted Mahomes early in overtime, and kicker Evan McPherson won the game with a 31-yard field goal.
Earlier in the 2021 season, the Bengals erased a 21-7 deficit to beat the Chiefs with a field goal by McPherson as time expired to win 34-31.
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Patrick Mahomes injury updates: Will Chiefs QB play in AFC title game?