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Patrick Mahomes’ ankle injury is the biggest variable of this Super Bowl. The latest update is a big win for the Chiefs.

Philadelphia Inquirer 2/8/2023 David Murphy, The Philadelphia Inquirer
Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes waves during the Super Bowl LVII opening night on Monday in Phoenix. © Yong Kim / Staff Photographer/The Philadelphia Inquirer/TNS Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes waves during the Super Bowl LVII opening night on Monday in Phoenix.

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. — The biggest question facing the Eagles is which Chiefs quarterback they will be facing in Super Bowl LVII.

Will it be the version of Patrick Mahomes we have seen throughout most of his career? Or will it be the quarterback we saw in the AFC championship?

The first guy is uniquely capable of winning a Super Bowl on his own thanks to his ability to keep plays alive and throw fastballs into the teeth of a defense. The second guy is going to need some serious help against an Eagles pass rush and secondary that has dominated the postseason.

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Forget about the X’s and the O’s. The right ankle is what matters most.

If you believe the vibes that were percolating in the Chiefs compound on Wednesday morning, the Eagles are going to have to win this game fair and square. Mahomes might not have been willing to give himself a clean bill of health, but everyone who has watched him practice seems to think the quarterback will be fine.

“One hundred percent,” Chiefs wide receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster said when asked if he has noticed an improvement in Mahomes. “It’s huge, man, when you talk about his mobility and actually go out there and still do what he does. People think that’s going to be tough for him, but I’ve seen him play through some pretty tough injuries.”

Injuries don’t get much tougher than ankle sprains like the one that Mahomes suffered in the first quarter of the Chiefs’ win over the Jacksonville Jaguars in the AFC divisional round. The effects were noticeable throughout Kansas City’s AFC championship win over the Cincinnati Bengals two weeks ago. While Mahomes threw for 326 yards and two touchdowns on 29-for-43 passing, he clearly lacked his usual ability to elude pressure and throw on the run. The three sacks that he took were his most since Week 8 and his 7.58 yards per pass attempt was his lowest mark during that same stretch. In short, the quarterback we saw against the Bengals looked like one who could find himself overwhelmed by the Eagles’ pass rush.

Problem is, that’s not the same quarterback the Chiefs are seeing now in practice. On Wednesday morning, coach Andy Reid sounded an upbeat note as his team prepared for its highest-intensity practice of Super Bowl week.

“He’s been doing really well with his ankle,” Reid said. “We had a fast practice a couple days ago, and he moved well. He can really do just about everything, at least everything in the game plan that we’ve asked him to do. I think he’ll be fine today.”

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The question is whether Mahomes will be able to do all of the things that he did during the regular season while throwing for a league-high 5,250 yards. Those are the things that have made the Chiefs one of the NFL’s most dangerous offenses over the last several years. Like Jalen Hurts, Mahomes is a player who can single-handedly render matchup advantages moot. While Hurts does more of it with his rushing ability and Mahomes does more of it with his arm, the foundation of both players is their ability to extend plays even as things are breaking down around them. When they are healthy, they defy game plans.

“I don’t think you’ll know exactly until you get to game day,” Mahomes said Wednesday. “I’m definitely in a better spot. I definitely can move around better than I was moving last week or two weeks ago. So just trying to continue to get the treatment and the rehab and get to as close as I can to 100% and then rely on some adrenaline to let me do a little extra when I’m on the field.

“It’s going to be definitely better, more mobile, be able to move around a little bit better for sure, and then we’ll see on game day how close to 100% I can be.”

The outcome of this Super Bowl may well hang in the balance.

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