Jan. 18—As they cruised to a resounding victory over the Steelers in Sunday's AFC Wild Card Playoffs, the Chiefs turned to an unlikely source to lead their offensive production — running back Jerick McKinnon.
"Everyday you have something to prove in this league," McKinnon said. "I just wanted to prove to my teammates and my coaches that I can get the job done."
With the team's top two running backs sidelined, McKinnon answered the call, putting together his best performance in a Chiefs uniform.
As Kansas City moves deeper in the playoffs, McKinnon said he's looking forward to taking advantage of any opportunity to contribute.
After spending the first seven years of his career with the Vikings and 49ers, McKinnon was signed by the Chiefs this past offseason. McKinnon was rarely used through the first 17 weeks of the season, though, appearing in 12 games and never getting more than four touches in a game.
Things changed in the Chiefs' regular season finale against the Broncos. With regular starter Clyde Edwards-Helaire sidelined already, second-string back Darrel Williams went down with an injury in the first half.
McKinnon stepped in during the second half, catching a touchdown pass on the way to a Chiefs victory.
With Edwards-Helaire and Williams sidelined against the Steelers, McKinnon got the opportunity to start in the first round of the playoffs.
The veteran delivered for the Chiefs, catching six passes for 81 yards and a touchdown and rushing for 61 yards. McKinnon's 142 scrimmage yards led all Chiefs skill players.
McKinnon said once he got the opportunity, his teammates gave him the ability to succeed.
"The opportunity, my teammates believing in me, my coaches believing in me and everybody just playing with one another," McKinnon said. "I feed off of those guys and we just kept it going. It was great to be out there."
Although he spent three seasons in San Francisco, McKinnon only saw the field in one of them, suffering season-ending injuries early in both the 2018 and 2019 seasons. In a bounce-back year in 2020, McKinnon posted a career-high six touchdowns, playing in all 16 games for the 49ers.
As he's continued to look for a bounce-back this season in Kansas City, McKinnon said he's worked hard, and it finally paid off Sunday.
"When you get in a place like that and you are fighting and battling back, the only thing you can do is just put your head down and keep working and know in the back of your mind that the hard work is going to pay off," McKinnon said. "I got the opportunity tonight and the hard work that I put in the past year, to overcome everything, it showed."
Moving forward in the playoffs, the Chiefs will continue to monitor the status of Edwards-Helaire and Williams. It's likely at least one will return to the lineup next week against the Bills.
If they can't, though, Chiefs head coach Andy Reid said he knows he can count on McKinnon to produce again.
"We're fortunate to have a number of running backs that we feel are good runners," Reid said. "That's a good problem to have, so we'll just see how it all plays out."
If he's called on, McKinnon said he'll be prepared to step in once again.
"I'm just thankful for the opportunity," McKinnon said. "The more opportunities you get, you have to take advantage of those things. I felt like I did so tonight."
The Chiefs will host the Bills on Sunday in the AFC Divisional Playoffs. Kickoff is set for 5:30 p.m. at Arrowhead Stadium.
Jacob Lang can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on twitter: @NPNowLang.