KANSAS CITY, MO. — Injuries haven't been kind to the Chiefs offensive line this season, with team's starting core missing 15 games and even ironman Mitchell Schwartz seeing his consecutive snap streak come to an end.
But perhaps no injury along the line affected the Kansas City offense more than the absence of Eric Fisher. After missing just two games in the first six seasons of his NFL career, Fisher sat out eight games recovering from surgery for a core muscle injury.
“(It's) basically the first time in my career that I've ever had an injury where I couldn't play a good part of the season,” Fisher said. “It was definitely tough on how it all progressed with the injury.”
Fisher initially sustained the injury on a routine play during the Friday practice leading up the team's Week 2 game at Oakland. Fisher tried to give it the old college try but could make it through just four snaps before exiting.
Further evaluation revealed Fisher required surgery that expected to keep him out four to six weeks. A setback meant he missed two months of action.
“I tried to come back, can't come back and then I guess I really look forward to the time I got back,” Fisher said. “Then, unfortunately, you miss eight weeks of football, it's not like you are right where you left off.”
Yet despite that, the team's offense picked up exactly where it left off with Fisher. The Chiefs are a perfect 8-0 in Fisher's starts this season and just 4-4 in his absence. Fisher essentially missed nine games including the Oakland contest. In those games, the Chiefs surrendered 18 sacks and averaged just 88 yards on the ground.
In the last six games with Fisher back at his customary spot on the left side, Kansas City surrendered just seven sacks and piled up 110 yards rushing per game.
Offensive coordinator Eric Bieniemy says there's a familiarity that comes from the union of the team's starting five that was missing during Fisher's absence.
“I know we've had different pieces that have filled in in those roles,” Bieniemy said. “But at the end of the day, it's just about him being back on that field being in rhythm, being in sync and just having a feel for the game.”
Quarterback Patrick Mahomes says there's a comfort with having Fisher protecting his blindside.
“Fish (Eric Fisher) has been playing at a high level for a long time now and he’s played against a lot of different defensive ends that are really good,” Mahomes said. “Just being able to have someone that you know has been able to go out there with the best of them and compete and really hold his own, is definitely something that gives you a lot of trust to stay in that pocket to make those throws.”
There's a chemistry that exists between a quarterback and offensive line, Mahomes says.
“I try to build a relationship with all those guys,” he explained. “Those are the guys that are protecting you, so I want to make sure I know exactly what they’re thinking, how they’re going about their business.
Fisher feels the same. “We take pride in keeping Pat clean and running the damn ball,” he said. It's unique protecting Mahomes, he explains, because the quarterback seems to feel everything around him.
“He knows if any of us get beat in any sort of way, he needs to step here or there, or if we get completely beat he needs to flush,” Fisher said. “To have that as quarterback, it's awesome.”
Against the Texans in Sunday's Divisional Playoff game at Arrowhead, Fisher will likely spend most of his time matched up against Whitney Mercilus. But if and when he faces off against J.J. Watt, that's a battle that's been going on through the years, head coach Andy Reid says.
“J.J.'s gotten a few, Eric's gotten a few, but it's a good battle, which it will be on Sunday,” Reid said. “I think they both get after the other. If you have eyes for the O- and D-line, that's a good one to watch.”
Fisher realized the team won every game he started this year once the regular season ended. “Thought it was pretty cool,” he said. Now he's putting himself in a different mindset for the playoffs, where the play gets faster and nastier in the trenches.
“It's basically 10 dudes in there who are literally giving everything they've got left,” Fisher said. “You just put it on the line, man, and do your job and give it everything you got.”
Bieniemy says that attitude comes from the growth and maturity Fisher has developed over the last seven seasons.
“One thing that I appreciate about Fish is he's going to play his ass off,” Bieniemy said. “He's going to give you all that he has for that one particular play. And then you know what? He's going to line up and do it all over again, good, bad or indifferent.”
That's the same approach Fisher is taking in trying to set aside everything that happened during the past four months and start anew.
“These three games are literally what we do months of work for,” Fisher said. “I try to get my mind to like it's a new season. I know we're tired, we're beat up, whatever, but you can mentally overcome those things, pretend like it's game one.”