DENVER — Awaiting the verdict on MVP Patrick Mahomes’ gruesome knee injury, fans across the NFL may be longing for the days when the backup quarterback’s job was to carry a clipboard and not the hopes and dreams of an entire franchise.
Mahomes is headed for an MRI on his right knee, which he dislocated Thursday night in Kansas City’s 30-6 pummeling of the Denver Broncos that kicked off Week 7.
"He’s a huge part of this team, huge part of the league. You just hate to see that," said journeyman Matt Moore, the latest No. 2 thrust into a leading role in this "Year of the Backup Quarterback."
Starting with Andrew Luck , who retired at age 29 after dealing with a series of injuries, the league’s celebration of its 100th season has been marred by the loss of some of its biggest stars.
The club of QBs sidelined so far includes Drew Brees (thumb), Ben Roethlisberger (elbow), Cam Newton (foot), Nick Foles (collarbone), Josh Allen (concussion), Mitchell Trubisky (shoulder) and Sam Darnold (mononucleosis), whose backup, Trevor Siemian was lost for the season with a gruesome ankle injury.
Now, the league’s brightest young star is hurt, too.
Shortly after becoming the fastest player in NFL history to throw for 7,500 yards, in just his 25th game, Mahomes got hurt not on one of his improvisational masterpieces but on the most basic play, a quarterback sneak.
The stadium grew silent as one by one players peeled off the pile and Mahomes stayed down, his right leg stuck at an awkward angle before he rolled onto his back, ripped off his helmet and covered his face.
"I don’t even want to think about that," receiver Tyreek Hill said. "We are just trying to move on from it, and I will continue to pray for my dog."
"It was out of whack," tight end Travis Kelce said. "I couldn’t even describe it. You looked at it and were like, ‘On no, there is something wrong with him."’
Denver defensive end Shelby Harris’ heart sank.
"I’ve never seen anything like that on the field before," Harris said. "His knee was literally all the way to the side, his kneecap was. I wish him the best. We definitely need him in the league, he’s definitely a big attraction in the league."
Mahomes refused to leave the field on a cart, so trainers helped him off the field once his kneecap was popped back into place. Then, he walked gingerly to the locker room.
"Obviously we need him to get wins," Hill said. "But now we just have to move on."
The Chiefs’ hopes of reaching their first Super Bowl since 1970 — the year Mahomes’ father, former big leaguer Pat Mahomes, was born — will rest at least for a while not on their magnificent maestro but on Moore, a 35-year-old career backup who wasn’t even in the league last year as he sought to transition into either coaching or scouting.
Moore attended Kyler Murray’s pro day at Oklahoma this spring alongside Adam Engroff, the Miami Dolphins’ director of college scouting. But Moore found himself in demand again when Chad Henne broke an ankle in the preseason and he signed Sept. 1 to back up Mahomes.
It was Kansas City’s dominant defence that really stepped up when Mahomes went out Thursday night, but Moore did throw a 57-yard TD pass to Hill with Chris Harris Jr. in coverage. Overall, he was 10 of 19 for 117 yards.
"It is crazy. I am pretty sure about three or four of the guys out there on the field had never caught a ball from Matt even in practice," Kelce said. "I know I hadn’t."
While backups Teddy Bridgewater in New Orleans and Kyle Allen in Carolina have each gone 4-0, most fill-ins aren’t so fortunate.
Mason Rudolph was knocked unconscious after replacing Roethlisberger, elevating undrafted Devlin "Duck" Hodges, who’d been cut at the end of training camp, to the starring role in Pittsburgh’s last game. Siemian’s season-ending injury opened the door for Luke Falk before Darnold returned last week.
Only four starting QBs who own Super Bowl rings are still standing: the ageless Tom Brady, the rejuvenated Aaron Rodgers, the dependable Russell Wilson and the floundering Joe Flacco, who somehow escaped injury Thursday night despite being sacked a career-high eight times and knocked down on most of his other drop-backs.
Hill insists it’s business as usual with Moore under centre instead of Mahomes.
"I don’t see anything changing," Hill said.
Except, well, everything.
Earlier this week, Broncos coach Vic Fangio said facing Mahomes is the toughest task in the football because "you have to defend two plays: the one they’ve called and then the one he might create."
Now, those skills are shelved, like those of so many others who have mastered the league’s paramount and most precarious position.