Patrick Mahomes
Bengals-Chiefs fate rests upon Patrick Mahomes' injured ankle
Patrick Mahomes

Bengals-Chiefs fate rests upon Patrick Mahomes' injured ankle

Updated Jan. 25, 2023 1:13 p.m. ET

Spare a thought for Patrick Mahomes' right ankle, soon to be cocooned behind all that thick tape, and with the obsessive eyes of the American sports public focused upon it with unrepentant curiosity.

Rarely has a single body part generated such sporting attention, but that's how it is this week, with all potential outcomes seeming to emanate directly from the Kansas City Chiefs quarterback's damaged lower limb.

The Chiefs' hopes of a second Super Bowl in three years, the Cincinnati Bengals' championship desires, the very fate of the Lombardi Trophy; they're all linked – and not tangentially – to that ankle, the one that got injured in last weekend's divisional round victory over the Jacksonville Jaguars.

How good will Mahomes be?

Can Patrick Mahomes get back to the Super Bowl and beat Joe Burrow's Bengals without being 100%?

A high-ankle sprain is no small matter and a regular Joe (not Burrow) like you or I would be hobbling around awkwardly for a good few weeks, or, most likely, use it as an excuse to spend even more time on the couch and in front of the television. Especially this weekend, when, in case you hadn't heard, there are a couple of pretty tasty football games taking place — with one overwhelmingly, headlining story. 

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Mahomes, who has carried the Chiefs all season, will be asked to carry the load once again in the AFC Championship against the Bengals (Sunday, 6:30 p.m. ET), but this time with the weight resting not on those sturdy and proven shoulders, but on a tortured ankle.

For Mahomes to even be involved is remarkable in itself, but National Football League teams have access to the very best and most expensive sports science, the rehab and preparatory work will have been unceasing all week and continuing toward kickoff.

And, let us not forget, elite athletes are just wired differently in terms of what they'll put themselves through, and Mahomes is the elite of the elite.

"As far as injuries go, Patrick is the main one," Chiefs coach Andy Reid told reporters. "He has worked hard on the treatment, and he is doing OK. He mentioned to you that he's going to play, so that's his mindset. We will just take it day by day and see how it goes."

All of which sums up the reality of the situation quite perfectly. Reid was far more upfront than many head coaches would have been in the same spot, but he's not going to share every nuance of his player's condition.

Heck, the Bengals, Sunday's familiar foe, already have enough of a favored edge with the mere fact that Mahomes will be at some degree of limitation. No need, then, to provide them with more.

Which means, for all the scrutiny and questioning, the answer is only going to come Sunday, when we will see for sure what Mahomes can withstand, how much traction he can generate, how that golden arm is impacted with his shifted balance, what his mobility is like, and to what extent the Bengals can take advantage of the best in the business being something less than that, temporarily.

"No. 1, without a doubt, no one can argue it anymore after this weekend, is Patrick Mahomes," FS1's Nick Wright told "First Things First" this week, when analyzing the best QBs in football. "It can't be argued. Joe Burrow, without question, is No 2.

"And now there is a real question. Jalen Hurts was amazing this week. I thought [Trevor Lawrence] played valiantly. The third-best quarterback in football … is Patrick Mahomes on one leg."

Healthy or not, Mahomes is NFL's best QB

Nick Wright on whether he believes this injury will be a problem against the Bengals.

On Sunday, we will see.

Back to the earlier point, why do we do it? Why is so much thought, conjecture, speculation, airtime and, here we have it, column inches, devoted to something that will only be revealed once the action begins?

In this instance, it is because of the unshakable feeling that this is it, right here, the key to deciphering the result. That's how good Mahomes is, as he approaches a fifth straight AFC Championship Game, a rare player in that "only" one Super Bowl ring at age 27 somehow feels like a slight underachievement.

This narrative is a little unfair to the Bengals, who have beaten Kansas City three consecutive times, but the reason the visitors are a 2.5-point favorite is not because of those past wins, but because of Mahomes' ankle.

So, welcome to the last few days of AnkleGate. It is what it is. All about ankles – actually one ankle – all the time. For the rest of the week, every snippet of information, every word uttered by Reid, virtually every question posed of Reid, every glimpse of Mahomes, all geared in one direction.

It's not just the main talking point, it might as well be the only one in town. It's an odd focus for such intense discussion.

It's just an ankle. But as it turned last weekend (sorry to the squeamish), did the season turn with it?

Martin Rogers is a columnist for FOX Sports and the author of the FOX Sports Insider newsletter. You can subscribe to the daily newsletter here.

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