KANSAS CITY, Mo. – Chiefs safety Tyrann Mathieu was added to the active roster from the COVID-19 list on Saturday, and the three-time All-Pro was listed as questionable for Kansas City's regular-season opener against the Cleveland Browns.
Mathieu tested positive on Sept. 1, even though he was fully vaccinated, and he needed to return two negative tests taken 24 hours apart to be eligible to play. He was still in the protocol on Friday, but is now cleared to play Sunday.
“We’re going to see how it goes,” Chiefs coach Andy Reid said Friday, when asked whether Mathieu could play without a practice. “The other guys have practiced and are ready to go. If he can’t go, he can’t go. If he can, he can.”
One benefit Mathieu has had is technology. The Chiefs used Zoom throughout the 2020 offseason, when the pandemic was enveloping the world, and Mathieu used the same system to take part in meetings virtually the past two weeks.
“Thank God we're ahead in this whole Zoom thing,” Chiefs defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo said this week. “The camera sits right in front of me and he's right there. I get to talk to him a little bit in meetings, but he hasn't missed a beat.
"He's chomping at the bit, as you can imagine. He just loves playing the game and he misses his guys.”
The Chiefs have used Juan Thornhill alongside Daniel Sorensen in practice the past two weeks, and they also have Armani Watts available on the back end. But the return of Mathieu is crucial for the Chiefs in that besides being one of the league's best playmakers, he also acts as the quarterback of the defense when it comes to getting guys lined up.
In fact, the Chiefs had been preparing two defensive game plans for Cleveland: one if Mathieu plays, one if he does not.
“We would handle it no different, obviously, than somebody getting hurt in the middle of the game. Guys have got to be ready to step up,” Spagnuolo said. "The advantage we have, I guess, versus that particular scenario is we’re practicing with guys that we think might have to play. So, we’ll move guys around, do what we have to, try to do most of the things that we do with Tyrann, but certainly some of those things will change and some of the calls might alter because of that.”
The Chiefs hedged their bets that Mathieu can play by promoting defensive back Zayne Anderson from the practice squad. They also released defensive back Shakur Brown from the practice squad and signed linebacker Elijah Sullivan.
Their defense is certain to be tested in the rematch of the Chiefs' divisional-round playoff victory in January.
The Browns' Baker Mayfield is coming off another strong year at quarterback, Jarvis Landry remains a standout pass-catcher and Odell Beckham Jr. is healthy again. They also have two stout running backs in Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt.
“You're playing in the NFL. Every game I feel is a statement piece,” Chiefs defensive tackle Chris Jones said. “Every team is different going into this year and every team's mindset is different. Everyone is 0-0 right now, so you're still fighting for 1-0. So that's how we'll present it and that's how we're going into it.”
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