Losing by three points on the road in an important, divisional game with under two minutes remaining, the Kansas City Chiefs had 75 yards to go to take a lead.
It took seven snaps total, but the two biggest plays of the drive were catches of 15 and 22 yards by Chiefs tight end Travis Kelce. The latter was the game-winning touchdown — which capped off a wild, 35-31 win over the Las Vegas Raiders to improve to 9-1 this season.
After the play, NBC’s broadcast cameras caught Kelce giving head coach Andy Reid a shoulder massage on the sideline. The star tight end was just letting Reid know he was able to relax.
“Everybody gets a little tense in those moments, so I just had to loosen the guy up a little bit,” Kelce told reporters in his post-game press conference. “It was just having fun with the big guy, knowing that it was a team win, we all accounted for this one.”
Kelce has to be feeling good. He’s in one of the best short-term stretches of his career. Over the last three games, Kelce has averaged nine catches and 132 receiving yards per game — and he has scored two total touchdowns. His 896 receiving yards this season will be at least 300 more than any other tight end after this week, and he is now on pace to break the NFL single-season yards record for a tight end.
As unstoppable as Kelce has been, neither he nor the offense has been perfect in any game this year. It was especially true in their Week 5 loss to the Raiders, but it reared its head again in the Week 11 rematch. A few stalled drives put the Chiefs in a dangerous position a couple times throughout the game.
“We know what we’re capable of, and we have the ultimate firepower on offense,” Kelce assured. “Scoring on every drive is a mission, and an expectation that we set for ourselves. You can’t get frustrated, that’s a good football team. You have to be able to battle through the ups and downs of a football game, knowing that it might take until the last minutes to find a win.”
Kelce was able to make plays consistently on Sunday night — and yet, nearly one-third of his production came on the two receptions during their game-winning drive. The Chiefs stayed patient and trusted themselves to make the right plays when there was no time for mistakes.
There was so much natural trust in themselves that Kelce and quarterback Patrick Mahomes’ instincts and chemistry kicked in for the final throw. Mahomes scrambled, but he comfortably found his favorite target because Kelce knew exactly where to be.
“I’m not going to lie, I kind of got tricked on it because I thought it was a middle field, open look,” Kelce admitted. “Once I got through the second level, I felt an opening on the opposite hash — and might as well go where the void is. I feel like I see and I feel what Patrick sees in the pocket back there sometimes, and sure enough, it was right on the money.”
Mahomes has always appreciated Kelce’s intelligence when maneuvering coverage. He thinks it comes from his experience of playing a different position.
“He has a great understanding of zone coverages, man coverages, how to get himself open and how to be on the quarterback’s timing,” Mahomes explained. “That comes from him playing the quarterback position and him having the years and experience, and I think you’re starting to see that from Tyreek Hill as well. If we can just keep evolving game-by-game, we’ll be a hard offense to stop.”
As the Chiefs enter the final six-game stretch of the 2020 season, Travis Kelce is as much of a sure thing for first-team All-Pro at his position as any other NFL player. He’s the most important offensive weapon on the league’s best offense, he’s toward the top of receiving categories for all positions, and he just put up his third-consecutive performance of 100 or more receiving yards.
Is it that crazy to think Kelce has an argument to be considered for NFL offensive player of the year?