It was a busy afternoon at One Arrowhead Drive on Thursday, as Kansas City Chiefs' Head Coach Andy Reid, Assistant Head Coach / Special Teams Coordinator Dave Toub, Offensive Coordinator Eric Bieniemy, Defensive Coordinator Bob Sutton, quarterback Patrick Mahomes, punter Dustin Colquitt, cornerback Steve Nelson, right tackle Mitchell Schwartz and left tackle Eric Fisher met with the media.
Here are 10 things that stood out.
Head Coach Andy Reid
1. Reid opened the press conference by providing a quick update on the Chiefs' injury report.
As far as the injuries go, Dorian O'Daniel is the only one that won't practice today," Reid said. "Everybody [else] made it through practice yesterday and we're just taking it day-to-day [with the guys who recently returned to practice]. I don't have any more information for you other than what I already mentioned yesterday – Larry [offensive guard Laurent Duvernay-Tardif] and Eric Berry are both day-to-day."
Assistant Head Coach / Special Teams Coordinator Dave Toub
2. Toub spoke about the emergence of rookie kick returner Tremon Smith, who first took over return duties on kickoffs back in the Chiefs' Week 6 bout with New England.
Smith returned four kicks in that game, bringing one back for a season-long 97 yards that set up an eventual touchdown.
"That was his first game, and that was a great way to start," Toub said. "That long return was huge. That's a rare thing against a team like the Patriots - that doesn't happen all the time. A lot of things had to go right. There were a lot of guys out there blocking. It was good for him to get off on a good start like that."
That strong debut propelled Smith to a Pro Football Focus Second-Team All-Pro nod as a return man and an honorable mention on ESPN's All-Rookie Team.
Offensive Coordinator Eric Bieniemy
3. Bieniemy discussed the play of wide receiver Tyreek Hill this season and how he's grown as an offensive playmaker.
"Tyreek has improved each and every year. He took on a personal challenge this offseason and wanted to improve on his route running and you've noticed that," Bieniemy said. "I think that you've seen him make tremendous strides throughout the course of the year, so he's a kid that takes everything - not so much that he takes it personally - but he accepts the challenge of always trying to improve who he is and what he's about. It's been fun watching him, so I just want to make sure that we can continue watching what he does after this week as well."
Hill hauled in 87 catches for a franchise record 1,478 receiving yards this season, which included a strong performance against New England in Week 6. In fact, in two career games against the Patriots, Hill has 14 catches for 275 yards and four touchdowns.
Defensive Coordinator Bob Sutton
4. Sutton was asked about the Chiefs' impressive showing on defense last week against Indianapolis and what's helped his group make strides late in the season.
"I think in the last couple of games the three things that we've done are we've limited the explosive plays, we've done a really solid job of tackling - we were in the low six, seven or eight-range of missed tackles in the last two weeks - and we've had one defensive penalty in two weeks," Sutton said. "So, those three things allow you to function and go."
Kansas City held the Colts to just seven offensive points and without a third-down conversion last Saturday in arguably their top performance of the season.
"As we've said before, [most drives that end in points] usually result from an explosive play and/or a penalty in the drive. The common thing when you look back and say 'Hey how'd they get down the field?' is usually you had a PI [pass interference call] here or you gave up a 20-yard run here or whatever it was. So, if you can manage those and do a relatively good job on those things, you put yourself in a position to play. I think the guys that have played have done a good job and have good energy. So, I think all of those things kind of helped us ramp it up here the last couple of weeks."
Quarterback Patrick Mahomes
5. Patriots' Head Coach Bill Belichick is known for schematically taking away an opponent's top offensive weapon. Mahomes spoke about how that affects the Chiefs' preparation heading into Sunday's game.
"You always have to prepare for each and every scenario, but I feel like with this offense – and you've seen it all year – somebody new can step up every single week," Mahomes said. "We have a lot of options and we have a lot of guys who can go out there and make plays. Whoever is open, I'll throw the ball to them no matter who it is and, hopefully, that's the formula to have success and to get a win."
Indeed, Mahomes has spread the ball around this season, finding 12 different players for touchdowns at some point during the year.
6. Mahomes also explained how the team feeds off the energy generated by the crowd in big moments like this.
"One-hundred percent. Whenever you can go out during pre-game warmups and feed off of energy because the fans are there packing the stadium that early, it truly is special," Mahomes said. "We feed off of that the entire game – there's not an empty seat in the stands – and I know there won't be an empty seat in Arrowhead this week. I'm excited just to be in front of that crowd playing in the AFC Championship."
Punter Dustin Colquitt
7. Colquitt, the Chiefs' longest-tenured player at 14 seasons, was asked if this moment – his first-ever trip to the AFC Championship Game - prompts reflection on his career to this point.
"I think reflection obviously kind of comes at the end of the season. It's always great looking back at years past where we've made it to the Divisional Round or first round of playoffs, and kind of how we've handled business or what we've worked on and things that I can clean up in my game," Colquitt said. "That's the biggest thing we're focusing on, 'How can we positively affect each game going forward?' The Patriots have been the team to beat since 2001. They've had a great run, especially in the last eight years. Like I said, we'll have our work cut out for us, but we've been working hard."
Colquitt went on to explain how the culture in the locker room was affected by the arrival of Reid prior to the 2013 campaign.
"A lot has changed in this building since 2013, with Coach Reid coming and Coach Toub - guys that have become great friends but also guys who have mentored you up, told you where you struggle, where you need to get better - and included family in that - which has been a great change to this environment. It's more of a Midwest environment here now. It's fun to see. It's fun to see the success we've had and getting into this next game. Can you think of a better town in this country that would love and crave an AFC Championship more than Chiefs Kingdom? I can't."
Cornerback Steve Nelson
8. Nelson was asked about the growth of fellow cornerback Charvarius Ward, who has stepped up in a big way of late.
"I've just seen our coaches staying on him and making sure that he's going out there and giving it all that he has," Nelson said. "I just saw something from him from the beginning. He has a lot of talent. He's a tall and longer guy – athletic - so I'm confident in him."
Ward tallied a team-high four passes defensed in last Saturday's victory over Indianapolis.
Offensive tackle Mitchell Schwartz
9. In a similar vein, Schwartz spoke about what he's seen from Mahomes' development over the course of the year.
"Every week, you just get a little more comfortable and a little bit better with [handling the huddle]. The playbook can be a little verbose at times, and having to get multiple plays out and then all the stuff we do with personnel and formations [can be difficult]. Really, just every week, just kind of getting on top of that," Schwartz said. "I think there is an article out today on the impact Alex [Smith] had on him – that [preparation] is something you learn from [Smith] on how to get in there Monday and Tuesday and really get the preparation started. You kind of come in Wednesday, and it's more of a blank slate and he's kind of already digested most of the playbook. Just doing those type of preparation things during the week really pays dividends because it's a lot - especially at quarterback because he has to know what everyone is doing on every play. I think that's something that he's done a great job with all year."
The results have certainly been there, as Mahomes became just the second player in NFL history to throw for 5,000+ yards and 50+ touchdowns during a single season in 2018 while leading Kansas City to a division championship.
Offensive tackle Eric Fisher
10. Fisher was asked about the chemistry along the offensive line and if this group stands out amongst the rest.
"I would say by far. I just think the relationships in the room are at an all-time high. We all have each other's back," Fisher said. "We all want the best for each other and we are all just pushing each other to be better at what we do. It's been a fun year, but it's not over yet. We are really looking forward to handling this game like professionals and putting our best performances out there."
Fisher and the Chiefs will have every opportunity to do just that on Sunday as Kansas City clashes with New England for the right to hoist the Lamar Hunt Trophy.