Mahomes or no Mahomes, Packers' defense will be ready

Kansas City’s offensive weapons extend well beyond its MVP quarterback

LB Preston Smith
LB Preston Smith

GREEN BAY – Za'Darius Smith doesn't need a reminder of how dangerous Patrick Mahomes can be. He still remembers what happened last December at Arrowhead Stadium.

With Baltimore leading Kansas City by seven points on fourth-and-9 with 1 minute, 29 seconds remaining, Smith appeared to be inches away from sacking Mahomes and clinching a 24-17 win for the streaking Ravens.

But as the eventual MVP quarterback does so often, Mahomes felt the pressure and began scrambling right to escape the pocket. For a fleeting moment, Smith looked to be within range of lunging at Mahomes but he didn't immediately.

The slight hesitation allowed Mahomes to extend the play an extra second and fire a pass across his body to Tyreek Hill 40 yards downfield, bringing the ball to the Ravens' 12-yard line.

Mahomes showed remarkable arm strength and vision on the play, causing color commentator Tony Romo to exclaim on the CBS broadcast: "I'm not sure anybody else – Aaron Rodgers maybe – in the National Football league can make this play."

Kansas City tied the game to force overtime and prevailed 27-24, handing the Ravens their only loss during the final seven weeks of the 2018 regular season.

"It was going to end the game and he scrambled out of the pocket and I had a chance to dive for him and I didn't," said Smith, who had four tackles, three QB knockdowns and a half sack in the game. "That was one that I remember. If he does play this game, I know what I need to do in those situations."

Now whether Smith gets his shot at redemption Sunday night remains anyone's guess. Mahomes, now a week removed from dislocating his knee cap against Denver, practiced in a limited capacity on both Wednesday and Thursday.

Head coach Andy Reid has been ambiguous about Mahomes' availability for Sunday, refusing to rule him out for the matchup with Green Bay. Still, Mahomes took the No. 2 reps behind veteran backup Matt Moore in Thursday's practice.

Moore, 35, has thrown for 7,055 yards, 46 touchdowns and 36 interceptions in a 12-year NFL career spent mostly with Carolina and Miami. He spent last season out of football, but signed with Kansas City after backup Chad Henne was placed on injured reserve with an ankle injury.

Moore completed 10-of-19 passes for 117 yards in relief of Mahomes, including a 57-yard touchdown pass to Hill near the end of the third quarter.

"You have to give him his respect," linebacker Preston Smith said. "He's getting the job done and is able to make plays. They still have some weapons on this offense to make them be successful and allow him to be in the pocket and make plays in their system."

While Mahomes has been at the controls of the NFL's top-ranked passing offense that's putting up 28.9 points per game this season, he's not the only difference-maker the Packers' defense must account for.

Hill has caught eight passes for 154 yards and three touchdowns since returning from a shoulder injury against Houston, while three-time All-Pro tight end Travis Kelce leads Kansas City in both catches (38) and receiving yards (541).

Meanwhile, receivers Sammy Watkins, Demarcus Robinson and rookie Mecole Hardman each have at least 300 receiving yards and three touchdowns through the first six games.

The ground game had been the one weak spot in Kansas City's offense early on, but veteran LeSean McCoy (60 carries for 322 yards and two touchdowns) has shifted the tide since moving into the starting lineup in Week 3.

"They have more than just Tyreek Hill," Head Coach Matt LaFleur said. "They have Sammy Watkins, Mecole Hardman, Travis Kelce. There's a lot of speed on that field. There will be a lot of speed on that field Sunday night."

The Packers are expecting Kansas City to be at its best in front of an energized crowd at Arrowhead Stadium. Green Bay's defense, which had three red-zone stops this past Sunday against Oakland, vows to be ready regardless of who starts at quarterback.

Depending on how things unfolds, neither Za'Darius nor Preston Smith would be surprised if it's Mahomes starting under center. At least, that's the mentality they're practicing with this week.

"It wouldn't be shocking," Za'Darius Smith said. "At the end of the day, it's still football and we're all football players. To be able to go out there and do what we love, I hope he can play. If he's not, that's just the name of the game."

The Green Bay Packers held practice on Thursday to prepare for the Kansas City Chiefs.

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