KANSAS CITY, Mo. -His hands balled into fists and his biceps flexed, running back Isiah Pacheco stomped down the Kansas City Chiefs sideline, his message accentuated by his demonstrative voice.
“Oh, bring that d—— energy!“Pacheco yelled at his offensive teammates, many of them nodding in agreement. “Bring that shit! Bring that shit!“
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 in a single-elimination game in his two-year career. With the Chiefs trailing by four points, Pacheco helped them score touchdowns on consecutive drives by doing what made him one of the NFL’s most distinctive players: Every time he touched the ball, he ran with anger, intensity and brutality.
Pacheco’s running style was instrumental in the Chiefs’ advancement to the AFC Championship Game for the sixth consecutive season. He led all players with 97 rushing yards on 15 attempts, a considerable amount of those yards gained after the first defender made contact with him.
Sixty percent of Pacheco’s carries resulted in him going over the expected distance, according to NFL Next Gen Stats, the highest percentage of any running back qualified 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 fuck with us!” Pacheco said. He continued to encourage his teammates as he reached the sideline, saying “Everything you have! Everything you have!“
“We’ll keep him quiet today!”
10 was on the microphone for our divisional dubbing 🎙️ pic.twitter.com/bZOtjEYBz6
— Kansas City Chiefs (@Chiefs) January 24, 2024
In the Chiefs’ two postseason victories, against the Bills and Miami Dolphins, Pacheco backed up his words with dominant performances.
His teammates also improved their game. The Chiefs rushing attack, aside from the offense being inconsistent at times during the regular season, was outstanding in the playoffs. The offensive linemen — Smith, left guard Joe Thuney, center Creed Humphrey, right guard Trey Smith, right tackle Jawaan Taylor and reserve guard Nick Allegretti — were 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 kids have been,” Humphrey said. “We overcame a bit of a slump, but the guys kept pressing and we got better, which is really good to see.”
Entering the playoffs, offensive coordinator Matt Nagy and quarterback Patrick Mahomes recognized that the Chiefs’ offense would need to have a more streamlined approach in the postseason to limit mistakes. The easiest way for coach Andy Reid and Nagy to achieve this goal was to give Pacheco a bigger role in the offense by increasing his workload. Pacheco’s 39 rushing attempts in the playoffs are the most he has had this season through two games. He was effective with those touches, too, producing 186 yards and two touchdowns—and eight rushes of 8 yards or more.
“I thought we did well during the regular season with opportunities, but (offensive line coach) Andy Heck does a great job of designing runs and the guys executed them,” Reid said. “The offensive line takes a lot of pride in doing what he does. “They know it all starts with them and they have been very thorough with their blocking assignments.”
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Even in the fourth coldest game in NFL history, with a temperature of minus 4 degrees at kickoff at Arrowhead Stadium against the Dolphins, Pacheco still aggressively threw the ball through multiple defenders, including his touchdown 3 yard. His highlights have led many fans on social media to make exaggerated comparisons while watching him perform.
Before Wednesday’s practice, Pacheco shared his favorite.
“The funniest thing, I thought, was when they say I run like I bite people,” Pacheco said, smiling and laughing. “I’m not a zombie. I mean, it was crazy. That’s a great opinion to have, I guess. For me, it’s just being determined and understanding that I have a goal to achieve.”
—NFL (@NFL) January 24, 2024
Just a month ago, Pacheco missed two games because he suffered another injury to his right shoulder, the same shoulder he injured during the Chiefs’ postseason run last year. He underwent what Reid described as “clean-up” surgery, an arthroscopic procedure, before returning to training on Christmas Day.
Since then, Pacheco has adjusted his post-practice routine, ensuring he receives as much care as possible from the team’s medical staff.
“Last year was the longest season of my career, so knowing it’s year two, there was no offseason for me,” Pacheco said. “I had surgery, so it was an ongoing process. “I stayed in the building the longest, being one of the last kids to leave.”
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Pacheco did not participate in Wednesday’s practice due to a sprained toe, a precautionary decision made by Reid. Pacheco expects to play Sunday against the Baltimore Ravens and understands he could get a second carry against the NFL’s top 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 most important part of the game, knowing that the team knows that you’re going to be the one running it.”
THIS TOUCHDOWN IS A 10/10 😤 pic.twitter.com/IErEnUKWkp
— Kansas City Chiefs (@Chiefs) January 22, 2024
Pacheco knows the ideal situation for him and the offensive linemen for Sunday’s game: a final drive in the fourth quarter in which the mission is to get the first down that would secure the victory and send the Chiefs to Super Bowl LVIII.
After Bills kicker Tyler Bass missed a potential 44-yard field goal after the two-minute warning on Sunday, the Chiefs still needed to earn another first down to use up all of their opponents’ timeouts. Pacheco ran through two defenders to gain 8 yards on first down. The Chiefs won the final first down of the game 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 our back on offense,” Humphrey said of the offensive line. “I’m really proud of how the kids executed these two plays. Pop running really hard was great to see too.
Pacheco’s final two rushing attempts resembled his previous 13 in the game, full of determination, ferocity and hostility.
On Wednesday, before Pacheco left the podium, a reporter asked a question he’d heard before: Is that you Truly angry when you run with the ball?
“Absolutely!” Pacheco responded quickly. “I am willing to do whatever it takes to get the job done.”
(Photo: Kathryn Riley/Getty Images)