Running with rage, Isiah Pacheco has energized the Chiefs’ rushing attack in the playoffs

KANSAS CITY, Mo. — His hands balled into fists and his biceps flexed, running back Isiah Pacheco stomped along the Kansas City Chiefs’ sideline, his message accentuated by his demonstrative voice.

Ay, bring that f—— energy!” Pacheco screamed at his offensive teammates, many of them nodding in agreement. “Bring that s—! Bring that s—!

A few minutes later, the Chiefs began the second half of their divisional-round playoff game against the Buffalo Bills, the first time Pacheco had played a road elimination game in his young, two-year career. With the Chiefs trailing by four points, Pacheco helped them score touchdowns on back-to-back drives by doing what has made him one of the NFL’s most distinctive players: Whenever he touched the ball, he ran with rage, intensity and brutality.

Pacheco’s running style was instrumental in the Chiefs advancing to the AFC Championship Game for the sixth consecutive season. He led all players with 97 rushing yards on 15 attempts, a sizable amount of those yards gained after the first defender made contact with him.

Sixty percent of Pacheco’s carries ended with him going over the expected yardage, according to the NFL Next Gen Stats, the highest percentage of any qualified running back in the divisional round.

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When Pacheco entered the end zone on his 4-yard touchdown run early in the fourth quarter, which proved to be the game-winning score, he shouted another message to left tackle Donovan Smith and tight end Travis Kelce.

They can’t f— with us!” Pacheco said. He continued to encourage his teammates when he reached the sideline, saying “Everything you got! Everything you got!

In the Chiefs’ two postseason victories, over the Bills and Miami Dolphins, Pacheco has backed up his words with dominant performances.

His teammates have elevated their play, too. The Chiefs’ rushing attack, a part of the offense that was inconsistent at times during the regular season, has been exceptional in the playoffs. The offensive linemen — Smith, left guard Joe Thuney, center Creed Humphrey, right guard Trey Smith, right tackle Jawaan Taylor and backup guard Nick Allegretti — have been the superior group in the trenches. And the Chiefs’ three tight ends — Kelce, Noah Gray and Blake Bell — have all improved their blocking.

“I’m proud of how resilient the guys have been,” Humphrey said. “We’ve gotten through a little bit of a slump, but the guys kept pressing and we’ve improved, which is really good to see.”

Entering the playoffs, offensive coordinator Matt Nagy and quarterback Patrick Mahomes acknowledged that the Chiefs offense would need to have a more simplified approach in the postseason to limit mistakes. The easiest way for coach Andy Reid and Nagy to accomplish that was to give Pacheco a larger role in the offense by increasing his workload. Pacheco’s 39 rushing attempts in the playoffs are the most he has had this season in a two-game stretch. He has been effective with those touches, too, producing 186 yards and two touchdowns — and eight rushes of 8 yards or more.

“I thought we did OK during the (regular season) with opportunities, but (offensive line coach) Andy Heck does a heck of a job with designing the runs, and the guys have executed them,” Reid said. “The offensive line takes a lot of pride in doing what they do. They know it starts with them and they’ve been very accurate with their blocking assignments.”

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Even in the fourth-coldest game in NFL history, with the temperature minus-4 degrees at kickoff at Arrowhead Stadium against the Dolphins, Pacheco still ran the ball with rugged aggression through multiple defenders, including his 3-yard touchdown. His highlights led many fans on social media to make exaggerated comparisons when watching him perform.

Before Wednesday’s practice, Pacheco shared his favorite.

“The funniest one, I thought, was when they say I run like I bite people,” Pacheco said, smiling and laughing. “I ain’t no zombie. Like, that was crazy. It’s a great opinion to have, I guess. For me, it’s just being determined and understanding that I have a goal to achieve.”

Just a month ago, Pacheco missed two games because he sustained another right shoulder injury, the same shoulder he injured during the Chiefs’ postseason run last year. He had what Reid described as a “clean-up” surgery, an arthroscopic procedure, before returning to the lineup on Christmas Day.

Since then, Pacheco has altered his routine after practice, ensuring he receives as much treatment as he can from the team’s medical staff.

“Last year was the longest season in my career, so understanding it’s the second year, there was no offseason for me,” Pacheco said. “I had surgery, so it’s been an ongoing (process). I (have) stayed longer in the building, being one of the last guys to leave.”

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Pacheco didn’t participate in Wednesday’s practice because of a sprained toe, a decision Reid made as a precaution. Pacheco expects to play Sunday against the Baltimore Ravens and understands he could have 2o carries against the NFL’s top-ranked defense, which has allowed just 16.3 points per game.

“It’s very important to protect the ball,” said Pacheco, who has fumbled only once in five postseason games. “That’s the biggest part of the game, knowing the team knows you’re going to run it.”

Pacheco knows the ideal situation for him and the offensive linemen for Sunday’s game: A final drive in the fourth quarter where the mission is to gain the first down that would secure a victory and send the Chiefs to Super Bowl LVIII.

After Bills kicker Tyler Bass missed a potential game-tying 44-yard field goal following the two-minute warning Sunday, the Chiefs still needed to gain another first down to exhaust all of their opponent’s timeouts. Pacheco ran through two defenders to gain 8 yards on first down. The Chiefs gained the game’s final first down on the next play, a 3-yard run up the middle by Pacheco.

“That’s what you want to do in that situation, let the coaches be able to put it on our shoulders up front,” Humphrey said of the offensive line. “I’m really proud of how the guys executed those two plays. Pop running really hard was awesome to see, too.”

Pacheco’s final two rushing attempts looked like his previous 13 in the game, full of determination, ferocity and hostility.

Before Pacheco left the podium Wednesday, a reporter asked a question he has heard before: Are you really angry when you’re running with the ball?

“Absolutely!” Pacheco quickly responded. “I’m willing to do whatever I have to do to get the job done.”

(Photo: Kathryn Riley / Getty Images)

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