Patrick Mahomes concussion: Could he be ready to play vs. Bills?

Liz Roscher
·3 min read

Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes left Sunday’s divisional playoff game against the Cleveland Browns in the third quarter due to a concussion, and he didn’t return. The Chiefs won, and will face the Buffalo Bills on Sunday, but it might be without Mahomes.

NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport reported on Monday morning that Mahomes has entered the NFL’s concussion protocol. Head coach Andy Reid confirmed in a video call with reporters that Mahomes was in the protocol, but he doesn’t know at what step. The decision to play in the AFC championship game will be made by doctors, he said.

That means Mahomes will have to meet benchmarks before being cleared to return to practice or play. While Reid told the media on Sunday that Mahomes hit the back of his head, he was mostly positive about Mahomes’ condition.

"He got hit in the back of the head and kinda knocked the wind out of him and everything else with it," Reid said. "He's doing great right now which is a real positive as we looked at this. Passed all the deals that he needed to pass so we'll see where it goes from here."

KANSAS CITY, MISSOURI - JANUARY 17: Quarterback Patrick Mahomes #15 of the Kansas City Chiefs looks on from the sidelines during the AFC Divisional Playoff game against the Cleveland Browns at Arrowhead Stadium on January 17, 2021 in Kansas City, Missouri. (Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images)
Chiefs QB Patrick Mahomes will have to complete the NFL's concussion protocol before returning to normal football activities. (Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images)

What are the steps of the return-to-play protocol?

Reid’s take on Mahomes’ condition is good news, but the NFL’s return-to-play protocol doesn’t have a timeline, and that’s for a reason. Concussion symptoms don’t always show up right away. The player is supposed to progress through the steps of the protocol at their own pace.

Here are the five steps of the protocol that Mahomes will have to go through before being cleared to return to full contact practice or play in a game.

  1. Symptom limited activity: The player will be told to rest and limit activities that aggravate concussion symptoms. Light aerobic exercise, stretching and balance training can be introduced if the player can tolerate it.

  2. Aerobic exercise: Cardiovascular exercise is introduced under direct supervision of the team medical staff, as well as dynamic stretching and balance training. Neurocognitive and balance testing can be done, and results should be back to baseline.

  3. Football specific exercise: The player can participate in more strenuous cardiovascular exercise, supervised strength training and may mimic sport-specific activities. They can participate in 30 minutes of sport-specific exercise with the team under careful monitoring.

  4. Club-based non-contact training drills: All cardiovascular, stretching, balance training and sport-specific activities can continue, and non-contact football drills are introduced. The player can engage in throwing, catching, running and other position-specific activities. This is the latest step where neurocognitive and balance testing can be done, and results should be back at baseline.

  5. Full football activity/clearance: In the final step, the player needs to be evaluated by two different doctors. First, the team doctor must clear the player for full-contact football activities. Then, the player must be evaluated by the independent neurological consultant assigned to their team, who has been jointly approved by the NFL and NFLPA. If the independent neurological consultant agrees with the team doctor’s evaluation, the player can return to practice and participate in the team’s next game.

The Chiefs are scheduled to return to practice Wednesday, and it’s possible that Mahomes could return to practice in some form at that time. It will all depend on how he responds in the next few days. There is a chance that he could be cleared to return in time for Sunday’s game, but we’ll all have to wait and see.

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