Hearts and minds of a champion







BY JOSE FAUS


The thing about post season play is you can hardly catch your breath and celebrate the moment before the narratives change depending on the day and the game. The total domination by the Cincinnati Bengals over the Buffalo Bills is a case in point. Hardly had the gaame ended then people who should probably know better, began touting the narrative “the Cincinnati Bengals are a team of destiny.” They manhandled the Bills at home in the freezing snow, and now head to Kansas City with the swagger that only Joe Cool Burrow can bring. The Chiefs should just take their cut of the championship game and stay home. Oh wait, they will be home. Well, the least they can do as good hosts is dress up and put bodies in the way of the unstoppable and hungry Bengals, and their photogenic quarterback. This dude is so cool he does not even bother with the everyday schtick of going and celebrating at a waffle house. Nothing wrong with that but it is a carefully cultivated image. The sleek wardrobe to go along with the designer glasses and the Joe Cool glide. Enough already. You are cool man, and some day will be even cooler than Broadway Joe Namath. And you are a damn good quarterback. But I also think ours is a damn good one. Relegated down in the hoopla that followed the Bengals win is the dramatic and gutsy play of Patrick Mahomes in the Chiefs win over the Jacksonville Jaguars on Saturday. You could feel the breath being sucked out of Chiefs kingdom. If GEHA stadium had a dome, it would have collapsed from the vacuum created by the gasps that filled the stadium. The kingdom exploded in a collective groan of disbelief when the raison d’etre of this team went done in a pile of bodies before faltering to his feet like a determined Quasimodo, stooped and in pain with an ankle as stable as the Leaning Tower of Piza. And then, there was the passion in full display that makes Mahomes a great leader. We have all had ankle sprains, and some have had the pleasure of a high ankle sprain, the memory of which lingered for months every time I took a step. But this is Mahomes and this is as inconvenient as a hang nail. Yes, it’s going to hurt, but it’s just an ankle. He’s got another one. He’ll just hop up and down on that one. The thing is Saturday‘s game was a great team effort. All aspects of the team contributed – yes even the special team’s hiccups were overcome. The absence of Mahomes spelled disaster. The season was in the balance and the scales were going down fast. But in stepped backup Chad Henne and the thing was ok. Starting at the two-yard line, the Chiefs marched 98 yards down the field to fortify a lead they would never relinquish. Now, a lot has been said about the poise Henne exhibited. This is not to diminish that assessment at all, but I got to say the coaching by Andy Reid during the first drive was a thing of beauty. Yes, the quarterback leads the offense, but the coach sees the big picture. On first down, Big Red called a pass play. I don’t know who wrote the playbook but, in that situation, you’re supposed to run on first down to get a little breathing space. But that’s Reid and the brain trust that runs the offense. The addition of Isaiah Pacheco is gold especially when he goes out and stomps the hell out of the grass like he did in that drive. Those blades did not have a chance. Oh, by the way, did you notice how beautiful that field looked? That touchdown in the end to Travis Kelce that extended the Chiefs lead was a cherry on top of a well-baked offensive plan. He does not have a mobile quarterback and must adapt the game to suit who is at the helm. And the man delivered, and how big a boost is that to the rest of the team. The defense, which for some reason attracts questions marks like Skip Blayless attracts hyperbole, came through again like it has done so many times this year. How about them Cowboys? It was good to see Frank Clark, who has played very well this year, play like the old shark from the first Super Bowl run, smelling that blood in the water. The killer instinct was there, and it spread to the rest of the defense. And the Chiefs have gotten stingy with the ball. Now I’m not looking at this through rose-colored lenses, there were some drops by the Jaguars that could have made for a different outcome. It is a thin margin and this time the Chiefs were on the right side of the ledger. I don’t know what the next game will bring. I’m not so certain of anything that I would bet the farm on it. That is a well-coached team with marquee players playing at a high level that is coming to Kansas City this weekend. It takes no great imagination to believe that Mahomes will not be 100%. The Bengals are going to pressure and look to get Mahomes out of the game. The Bengals will play with a chip on their shoulder, especially if the betting line is even close. But what do they have to be grumpy about? The Bengals have beaten the Chiefs three straight times with a healthy Mahomes, and now he comes in on one wheel. Please, don’t even try to lift that pebble and put it on your shoulders. The only thing I can place my money on is the belief that Saturday showed what it means to be a champion. The hearts and minds that showed up Saturday during adversity is a hard thing to quell. It’s the stuff champions are made of.