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Patrick Mahomes’ night a reminder QB position is key; Bears unlocking Fields

KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Anybody who watched the Tennessee Titans’ 20-17 overtime loss to Kansas City on Sunday Night Football understood one simple reality: It’s hard to win in this league when you can’t throw. The Chiefs had an elite quarterback running their offense in Patrick Mahomes. The Titans were doing what they always do, relying on workhorse running back Derrick Henry to lead their team while letting the quarterback — in this case, rookie signal-caller Malik Willis, filling in for starter Ryan Tannehill — play a supporting role. In other words, Tennessee could create an opportunity to win, but the Chiefs had the ultimate weapon for achieving that feat.

So let’s take this lesson and apply it to the NFL as we move past the midway point of the 2022 season. It seems as if teams are running more than ever, whether that’s by using quarterbacks as designated runners or simply doing what the Titans do and strapping their offenses to the shoulders of bell-cow backs. This is the year where we’ve seen a lot of veteran star passers struggle to find success, with future Hall-of-Famers like Tom Brady and Aaron Rodgers tasting their fair share of frustration. On the other hand, plenty of surprise teams have run their way into postseason contention, a group that includes Atlanta, Seattle and the New York Giants.

It’s difficult to find quarterbacks like Mahomes or Buffalo’s Josh Allen. It’s equally hard to believe a team that runs it heavily can win it all, even in a season when ground-and-pound is becoming more popular. “You still have to have a quarterback who can make the big throw in a crucial moment,” said one AFC personnel director. “Regardless of how you move the chains, you need that dimension to win a championship. The other element is the quick strike. You can run the ball successfully and be a contending team, but at some point you’re going to have to hit a big play vertically.”

Tennessee provided ample evidence for that argument on Sunday night. While Mahomes dominated — by throwing for 446 yards (on 68 attempts) and running for a team-high 63 yards — Willis completed just five of his 16 passes. Henry was able to hurt the Chiefs early, on his way to 115 yards and two touchdowns. He also wasn’t as influential in the second half, when the Chiefs sold out to stop the run and forced Willis to try to do more with his arm.

The Titans have long taken pride in that blue-collar approach, especially since they’ve won the last two AFC South titles and earned the AFC’s top seed in last year’s postseason. “We know how we built our team, we know what works for us and we’re not changing up the recipe,” said Titans center Ben Jones after the game. It’s even fair to wonder what could’ve happened against Kansas City had Tannehill been able to overcome an ankle injury and play. However, the plays that Mahomes and Allen can make in those clutch situations do factor heavily in how playoff games are decided.



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