The secret's out. The cover is blown. There's no hiding it anymore. If the football season were a TV show, next week would be the "now what" episode after a big reveal.
On Monday night, the entire country had a Hank-on-the-toilet "Walter White is Heisenberg!" moment as they watched Travis Kelce run over and around hapless Patriot defenders. Casual fantasy football players desperately checked their leagues' free agent lists to try and claim Kelce, only to find him already snatched up (and starting) by Chiefs fans and more astute fantasy football enthusiasts.
There were a bunch of highly, highly impressive performances Monday for the Chiefs, but none stood out to the casual observer more than Kelce. The easiest way to tell what player made the biggest impression is the "next-day-buddy" test. Let's say you've got a friend who is into football, but not a fan of the Chiefs and only watches them when they're on national TV. The next day, what player does he come up and talk to you about? That's the guy who stood out the most.
I had a half dozen or so conversations about the game on Tuesday with people who aren't fans of the Chiefs, and every single one of them centered around Travis Kelce. Who he was, what round he was drafted in, why they'd never heard of him before ... on and on and on. One county attorney who had been smart enough to take my advice and snatch Kelce up in his fantasy league told me he "owed me one" for getting him such a free agent steal. The Chiefs destroying the Pats was a big deal, sure. But the main storyline was Travis Kelce.
I've written about Kelce and our tight ends multiple times. Normally a subject like that dries up, but Kelce is the gift that keeps on giving. So today we're going to look at Travis Kelce one more time (not the last time, if I'm being honest).
If someone were to ask what makes Kelce special, it's easy to just say, "well, he's really fast and really strong." And that would be a completely accurate statement. However, it doesn't completely capture what it means to have Kelce on the field. A better way to say it is this; Travis Kelce takes ordinary plays and turns them into explosive ones.
Monday night, Kelce demonstrated that ability multiple times. Let's have some fun reliving them.
The first such play came at the 11:41 mark in the first quarter. The Chiefs were facing 2nd and 7 on their own 44-yard-line. The Chiefs came out in with Anthony Fasano, Demetrius Harris, and Travis Kelce all on the field (I love you Andy, Reid). Kelce motioned to the right side of the line and was hit on a quick out. Here's Kelce as he makes the catch (having to twist and slow down).
(Side note: Ignore that little red dot. I'm too lazy to go back to MS Paint and erase it)
This is a pretty "meh" play overall, one that every NFL team runs every week. Really, this quick outs generally drive me crazy, as Reid has used them way too much in place of the run game. Looking at that picture, you'd expect Kelce to gain 4-5 yards (maybe) to set up a 3rd and short. A mundane, everyday play.
Except Travis Kelce doesn't really do mundane. Instead, he makes multiple defenders miss and ends up with a 10-yard gain. Look where he ends up:
How did he end up on the Patriots' 46-yard-line? Seriously, look at the first picture, then the second picture. It's like he teleported there with a couple of defenders on his back or something.
Kelce was doing stuff like this all night. Later in the first quarter the Chiefs are on the 28-yard-line and threatening to score. The Chiefs need five yards for a 1st down and Kelce runs a shallow crossing route. The Pats pass him off appropriately in zone, and when he catches the ball (which was not in stride, forcing him to slow down), Hightower looks like he's in good position to prevent the 1st down.
Once again, this is a pretty ordinary, everyday play. What's more, the Patriots did a good job sticking with their coverage.
But once again, Kelce doesn't do "ordinary." Kelce beats Hightower to the sideline and powers forward when Hightower does manage to catch him. He makes it all the way to the 20-yard-line.
Now, a nine yard gain isn't anything earth-shattering. But a nine yard gain on a player where the vast majority of NFL tight ends would have gotten about three? That's a big, big deal. Being able to take a play for minimal yardage and turn it into a solid gain is what separates average players from playmakers.
Of course, Kelce wasn't limited to nine and ten yard gains on Monday. Let's move ahead to the 2nd quarter. Knile Davis has just gashed the Patriots defense for a gigantic gain (a wonderfully executed play that deserves its own column) and the Chiefs are on the Patriots' 38-yard-line. How the Chiefs lined up is worth noticing:
Yep, that's a trips right formation with Anthony Fasano, Dwayne Bowe, and Travis Kelce. You know, a lot of people (myself included) are understandably excited about the trips formation we saw with three tight ends on Monday night (and we'll get to that play). But this formation may be even more exciting.
Bowe is one of the best blocking receivers in the NFL. He's very nearly another tight end in that trips formation. This is a ROUGH look for defenders to handle, as the ball could be going to any of the three and he'd have two highly capable blockers in front of him. Look for more of this formation in weeks to come.
Anyway, let's fast-forward again to where Kelce makes the catch:
Kelce's defender has lost his footing (I wonder if the Pats' shoe guy still has a job today. It was like they were playing on a slip and slide), but is almost up and will be in pursuit. Additionally, note that Kelce is going to need to turn 180 degrees before he starts running and the players surrounding him are all secondary players. You know, smaller, faster guys.
If you were to show your average football fan this picture and ask him "Where do you think the receiver ended up before getting tackled?" you'd get a variety of responses. One thing is certain, though; the majority of responses would say no farther than the 20-yard-line at the absolute most. And I'd be willing to be almost anything that people would anticipate something around the first down marker.
Where does Kelce finally get pushed out of bounds? The 5-yard-line.
That play would have been a solid gain (given the slip by the safety) regardless of who the receiver was. But only three other TEs in the NFL (Jimmy Graham, Julius Thomas, and Vernon Davis) even have a prayer of making it as far as Kelce does. To be fair, some of that is set up by a nice block by Bowe (a block that ended weirdly as he dove aside, but a nice block nonetheless). But again, we have a pass caught right around the line of scrimmage that ends in a big gain. This time a HUGE gain.
The most "holy crap" play of the evening by Kelce, though, came in the 3rd quarter. The Chiefs were facing 1st and 10 from their own 20 (having decided to finally let New England score so Tom Brady would maybe stop pouting. It didn't work). First of all, look at the cushion the covering safety is giving Kelce (as the ball is being snapped):
That, friends, is R-E-S-P-E-C-T. This is the same safety Kelce torched for 33 yards earlier, and he's taking no chances. He's now backed way off, a reasonable action considering how Kelce has been tormenting the Patriots. Of course, the problem with that is Reid anticipated it and called the play accordingly. Alex Smith IMMEDIATELY throws to Kelce heading toward the sideline. Here's Kelce as the ball is caught:
To his credit, the safety has shown good closing speed to try and make up for the gigantic cushion he'd been giving Kelce. When you look at where Kelce is in relation to the safety, we're again in situation that the expectation would be a 4-5 yard gain. Maybe a little more if the safety shows some wiggle.
With Kelce, as well as Bowe ahead of him blocking the only other Patriot in the area? Nope. That "X" on the 37-yard-line is where Kelce is finally brought down. But not before absolutely humiliating poor Tavon Wilson, the safety assigned to cover him. Kelce makes the catch, Wilson tries to break down, and Kelce throws a juke on him that literally sends him to his knees. I'm not sure whether Wilson was just beaten, in shock, or praying that God would send someone else to try and cover this freak of nature.
Yet again, it's a play that should be ordinary but becomes a whole lot more. It's almost impossible to quantify that "special" factor and put it into stats, but Kelce has it in spades. Expect to see a whole lot more of it as the year moves along. I can't wait.