By DAVE SKRETTA
KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — Patrick Mahomes took the majority of first-team reps in practice Thursday, even though he remains in the NFL’s concussion protocol, raising expectations that he will start in the AFC championship game against the Buffalo Bills.
Mahomes was initially listed as a full participant when he returned to practice Wednesday, but the Chiefs quickly corrected his status to limited because he remains in the protocol. He must be cleared by team physicians and an independent neural consult before the reigning Super Bowl MVP can be a full participant in practice or play in a game.
“Pat looked good out there. He did a nice job when he was doing it and looks like he’s moving around well,” coach Andy Reid said. “He feels good, so it’s just important that we follow the protocol and that’s what we’re doing.”
Mahomes sustained the concussion when he was tackled on a quarterback option midway through the third quarter of the Chiefs’ 22-17 divisional-round win over Cleveland. Chad Henne finished the game with Matt Moore backing him up, and the two veteran journeymen would be next in line if Mahomes was not cleared to play.
“I mean, during the game, when somebody of his caliber and the leader of the team goes down, you’re all in shock: ‘Hold on, is that Pat right there?’” Chiefs wide receiver Mecole Hardman said. “It’s a shock at first but in the game it’s next man up. Chad came in and did a great job. And as far as now, they’re going to take him through the protocol.”
Running back Clyde Edwards-Helaire practiced for the second straight day as he comes back from a high-ankle sprain he sustained in Week 15, as did wide receiver Sammy Watkins, who has been out with a calf injury since Week 16.
Edwards-Helaire had the fourth-most yards from scrimmage among rookies with 1,100 this season, despite missing three full games and part of another. Watkins provides another downfield playmaker alongside Tyreek Hill and Travis Kelce, which should limit the Bills defense — led by second-team All-Pro cornerback Tre’Davious White — from double coverage.
Running back Le’Veon Bell, who played sparingly behind Darrel Williams last week, did not work out Thursday after his knee swelled up following the previous day’s workout. Rookie linebacker Willie Gay Jr. (ankle) also remained out.
The only other injury uncertainty facing the Chiefs involves cornerback Bashaud Breeland, who also was concussed during the Browns game. Much like Mahomes, he practiced on a limited basis Wednesday and Thursday but has not been cleared for full practice or a game, though Reid indicated that his top cornerback is trending in the right direction.
The Chiefs played last week without his backup, Rashad Fenton, who has returned from an ankle injury this week.
“That’s something we’re dancing around right now,” Chiefs defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo said. “You like to have all your guys, all your bodies, in the right spot this time of year, but we’re going through some things that are a little in flux. We’re uncertain at some spots. Hopefully it will clear up by Sunday or before that, so we can get guys ready. We have a plan either way, if certain guys can’t go, and let’s hope most of our guys can.”
NOTES: Chiefs offensive coordinator Eric Bieniemy was among the hottest names heading into the coaching carousel, and he had interest from or interviewed with every team that had an opening for a head coach. But after Philadelphia hired Colts offensive coordinator Nick Sirianni on Thursday, it left Houston with the only open job. “Today we had a chance to prepare for situational football,” Bieniemy said. “My own personal business? When it’s time to take care of that, it’ll take care of itself.” … The Chiefs primarily have used Hardman on punt returns this season, even though his performance has been mixed, and special teams coach Dave Toub indicated that Hill could be used in a pinch on Sunday.