OAKLAND, Calif. (TNS) — The worst week of the Chiefs' season will color the rest of it. The franchise was embarrassed, angry, and hurt, cutting a star running back in a tearful meeting that will have consequences on and off the field, locally and around the league.
Then, the next day, we all woke up in a world where 31 other teams still don't have Patrick Mahomes.
That is the truth that must matter more than all others if this Chiefs season is indeed as magical as it has sometimes felt.
That is the truth that mattered more than all others in the Chiefs' first game of the rest of their lives without Kareem Hunt — a 40-33 win over Raiders on Sunday that was much sloppier than the score suggests.
"It's a quarterback-driven league," right tackle Mitchell Schwartz said. "And we've got the best going right now."
Mahomes is not yet old enough to rent a car, so the TMZ video and shocking release of Kareem Hunt is his first true chance at professional leadership. He is uniquely equipped to be the voice, soul, and energy of this franchise for the next decade and beyond. We know all of that, for reasons that range from a childhood spent in big-league clubhouses to an otherworldly talent that teammates are naturally drawn to.
But this is something else entirely. Hunt was among Mahomes' closest friends on the team, the two pulled together by age (same draft class), position (same backfield) and hobbies (Fortnite and Madden). Hunt isn't much of a soccer fan, for instance, but he went to Sporting Kansas City's playoff game on Thursday (his last full day with the team, as it turned out) because Mahomes was going.
Eric Berry is still at least a week from playing, Justin Houston is not high on speeches, and Travis Kelce is more comfortable as part of the party rather than the one making plans. This is the gap the Chiefs have always expected Mahomes to fill — it's a small but important part of why they traded Marcus Peters, actually — and this week was his first real opportunity.
And he was spectacular.
On Friday, in the wake of a day described by a team source as "a funeral," Mahomes called a meeting at the practice facility. Players were hesitant to say too much about it on the record, but the message's general description lined up: this is sad, Kareem is a brother, but we have to keep moving forward and stay together.
In a quick moment away from his regular postgame news conference, Mahomes downplayed the meeting. He wouldn't say whether he was the one who called it, and said it was part of the regular weekly schedule.
Which is the best possible answer, because leaders — particularly 23-year-old leaders who still haven't played even one full season as a starter — don't talk about the mechanics of leading.
They just do it.
To be clear, that's just a meeting. Important, but without the substance of a star's ability, empty calories. Because the Chiefs have had quarterbacks with strong personalities before. At different points, those different quarterbacks have had plenty of charisma, empathy, and competitiveness.
But from Mike Livingston to Todd Blackledge to Trent Green to Alex Smith, they have never had this kind of talent.
Here's something that is simultaneously true and absurd: he threw for 295 yards, four touchdowns, no interceptions and it was not even close to his best.
His timing was off at some points, his aim off at others. He threw a pass or two that might've been intercepted, and missed another few that might've been touchdowns. All of that is true, and this was still at least the Chiefs' fourth win — at the Steelers, at the Broncos, Jaguars at home — that might've been a loss if the teams traded quarterbacks.
"You look at that last touchdown, you saw how excited he was," coach Andy Reid said. "That's the way he comes to work every day."
Right, yes, the last touchdown. His fourth of the day, and 41st of the season, a 12-game running total that matches Smith's combined scores from the last two seasons.
That was a ball thrown to at least his third read, by the way. And done three snaps after he ran through a defensive end's sack attempt and then threw on the run, the ball perfectly placed over a linebacker and in front of a defensive back and into Kelce's hands for 25 yards on third down at the end of the fourth quarter.
The Raiders dropped eight on the play, including a linebacker who tried to bait Mahomes into a throw by faking a rush and then drifting back to play the pass. None of it mattered — Mahomes mattered.
If the throw had been 70 yards instead of 20 it would have been the full Mahomes experience: elusiveness, calm, scrambling to throw instead of run, creativity, brains and guts.
"First off," Mahomes said when asked about that play, "the O-line blocked tremendously for me the entire game."
Well, of course that's what he said.
In the moments after the game, Justin Houston was straightforward when approached by The Star. He said he wished Hunt was still with the team, but "nothing changes," and that he wanted to "focus on the mission."
When approached by a TV reporter, Houston declined to answer any questions.
"Coach Reid's got all the answers," he said, and if you wanted a scene of one Pro Bowler giving way to another in the locker room dynamic this was it.
Later, after his news conference, Mahomes went back to the locker room. He joked and shared stories with some of the guys who still hadn't made it out to the bus, and then changed out of the worn-for-TV suit and into something more comfortable for the flight back.
And, for one week at least, the single biggest reason the Chiefs absorbed their worst moment of the week and kept the broader mission moving forward anyway.
Sam Mellinger is a columnist for The Kansas City Star.