As the Chiefs were putting together their game-winning drive at Denver last weekend, all eyes focused on rookie quarterback Patrick Mahomes, who had reentered the game in a pressure situation and marched his team into scoring position.
Less obvious was the contribution of wide receiver Albert Wilson. He was Mahomes’ favorite target all day — at no time more so than on the drive that produced Harrison Butker’s 30-yard field goal as time expired.
In a game in which most of the regulars rested, Wilson didn’t start. But he wound up producing the best statistical game of his four-year career, with 10 receptions (in 11 targets) for 147 yards on only 28 offensive snaps. He was the highest-rated wide receiver in the NFL last weekend, according to Pro Football Focus.
Wilson had never caught more than five passes or notched more than 87 yards in a game since arriving in the league from Georgia State.
“I got the opportunity to make a couple of plays,” Wilson said. “It was definitely fun. The ball came my way and I took advantage of it.”
Among those who didn’t play last weekend were the Chiefs’ top two pass-catching threats, tight end Travis Kelce and wide receiver Tyreek Hill. Both will be back for Saturday’s AFC Wild Card-round matchup against the Tennessee Titans at Arrowhead Stadium.
But that doesn’t mean the Chiefs will require less of Wilson. He’s become an increasingly important part of coach Andy Reid’s offense, a reliable possession receiver and the team’s third target after Kelce and Hill. It’s not a coincidence that the Chiefs lost the three games — Steelers, Cowboys and Giants — that Wilson missed because of injury.
Quarterback Alex Smith noticed it.
“Look at those games,” Smith said. “It was different all the sudden when he came back.”
Those losses were part of the six-of-seven skid that occurred after the Chiefs lost Chris Conley for the season with an injury. When Wilson was gone, their wide receiver ranks were noticeably depleted, not just in talent but experience, which takes time to develop.
“Coach Reid has a great system going on, and it’s pretty difficult,” Wilson said. “When he has guys who can run it, it looks great … I’m still learning. I don’t think there’s an ending to knowing the whole offense.”
In the Chiefs’ system, Wilson is likely to see more one-on-one coverage than Hill or Kelce. But he’s good enough to make an opponent pay.
“He’s worked every hard the past couple of years learning the game,” Reid said. “That position takes a little bit of time to get everything down. He’s done it and played well.”
Wilson is listed as questionable for the Titans game — he was limited in practice this week with a hamstring injury — but there’s no question in his mind that he’s playing.
“It’s feeling good,” Wilson said.
Wilson has lined up on the outside and in the slot and turned in his best season with 42 receptions for 554 yards and three touchdowns. He didn’t get in the end zone last weekend, but he was critical to the success of the Chiefs’ game-winning drive ... even before it started.
In the huddle, Mahomes said Wilson told him, “This is what we do. This is what we practiced. Let’s do it.”
The drive started at the Broncos’ 21 and opened with a sack. On second-and-17, Mahomes hit Wilson for a 13-yard gain. Two more completions to Wilson totaled 27 yards, and the Chiefs drove close enough for Butker to win the game.
In his first start, Mahomes had a game-winning drive, and Wilson had the biggest game of his career.