KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- Running back Jerick McKinnon didn't just play a big part in helping the Kansas City Chiefs win their wild-card round playoff game against the Pittsburgh Steelers on Sunday, he also gave his coaches something to ponder as they prepare for their upcoming divisional round game against the Buffalo Bills.
McKinnon made a major push for continued playing time by rushing for 61 yards and catching six passes for 81 yards in the Chiefs' 42-21 win over the Steelers. He scored the Chiefs' first touchdown on a 4-yard pass from Patrick Mahomes.
McKinnon, whose 12 regular-season carries matched the 12 he saw Sunday against the Steelers, was featured because Clyde Edwards-Helaire sat out with an injured shoulder and Darrel Williams was limited because of an injured toe.
McKinnon played well enough to make a claim for more snaps against the Bills on Sunday (6:30 p.m. ET, CBS) and beyond if the Chiefs advance.
"I've seen it from training camp on that he's a playmaker," Mahomes said. "There's a reason he's been a playmaker in this league for the last few years here. Obviously, he dealt with injury in his career and he dealt with a little bit of injury this season but he kept his mindset right. He's kept working hard.
"I knew with some other guys being down and dinged up that he would fill in nicely."
McKinnon had some big moments early in his career with the Minnesota Vikings. He rushed for more than 500 yards three times in his first four NFL seasons as a part-time player.
But after he moved to the San Francisco 49ers a knee injury cost him two seasons and Sunday night's game was his first chance since to regain what he lost.
"When you get in a place like that and you're just fighting and battling back, the only thing you can do is just put your head down and keep working and know in the back of your mind one of these days that work is going to pay off," McKinnon said. "The hard work I put in the past couple of years to overcome everything, it showed."
McKinnon missed several games early in the season because of a hamstring injury. He called his absence a blessing in disguise because it left him fresh when the Chiefs needed him in a bigger role against the Steelers.
"He gives you all kinds of confidence just the way he handles himself," coach Andy Reid said. "He's a confident guy [and] smart and he's a good athlete. You felt like if he got in there he'd do a good job. He can catch the football and he can run it. He's got good vision."
Tight end Travis Kelce said, "He just brings the energy. Every time he gets the ball he's a nonstop, downhill, aggressive runner. That's fun to play with. That's fun to block for. You know you've got the upper hand when you've got a guy back there with his ability."
It's too early for the Chiefs to know how they might split their backfield work against the Bills or whether Edwards-Helaire or Williams will be ready for a full role. But with those two they already had some choices and now it appears they have an additional option with McKinnon.
"The running back group we have is very deep and it's been showing," McKinnon said.