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Despite racking up records, Travis Kelce is only focused on improving

As he continues to re-write the tight end history book, Kelce embraces the challenge of getting even better

NFL: Denver Broncos at Kansas City Chiefs Jay Biggerstaff-USA TODAY Sports

Stop me if you’ve heard this before: a member of the Kansas City Chiefs offense set an NFL record. Fans of the Chiefs are getting used to what seems like a weekly occurrence, but tight end Travis Kelce’s latest milestone cannot not be undersold.

During the 22-16 win over the Denver Broncos on Sunday Night Football, Kelce topped 1,000 receiving yards for the fifth-consecutive season — an NFL record for tight ends that he already held previously with four straight. In fact, no other tight end in NFL history has had five 1,000-yard seasons at all.

Besides that remarkable feat, Kelce also became the first tight end in NFL history to earn over 1,100 receiving yards in his team’s first 12 games of a season. The previous high was 1,083 yards — set by Kelce in 2018. As if that wasn’t enough, Kelce’s 136 yards against Denver moved him into a third-place tie for most career 100-yard games by a tight end; he trails former Chiefs tight end Tony Gonzalez by seven games for the most all-time.

To reiterate, these accomplishments should not be undersold — but when asked about it in his post-game press conference, Kelce did exactly that.

“It’s something cool to hang your hat on when the career is over, I would assume,” Kelce mildly responded to reporters. “Right now, I’m just focused on the task at hand: trying to win football games. I’m going to enjoy this one for the night with the family and then from there, focus on Miami.”

NFL: Denver Broncos at Kansas City Chiefs Jay Biggerstaff-USA TODAY Sports

Chiefs head coach Andy Reid has been around professional football for a long time, and he has coached against some of the league’s greatest at Kelce’s position. Knowing the history of the game, Reid expressed admiration for his tight end’s achievements.

“There’s been a couple great tight ends that have played this game — we’re talking about all-time — so that’s quite an accomplishment,” Reid pointed out in his post-game press conference. “Listen, nobody enjoys the game or works harder than Kelce does. So, it’s great to see this happen to him, and he loves playing. He loves playing the game, so those type of guys you love to coach. We’re blessed to have a few of those that love the game. But I’m proud of Kelce for the time and effort he puts in. He and the quarterback have a great relationship, and that’s important to get these types of things done. Every quarterback needs a go-to guy, and our quarterback is fortunate to have a couple guys around him, but 87 is a big one there for him.”

Reid noted how lucky Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes is to have Kelce, and that has not gone unnoticed by the gunslinger himself. To Mahomes, there’s more to the benefit of Kelce than his ability with the ball in his hands.

“He really doesn’t care how you win the football game; he just wants to win,” Mahomes told reporters after the game. “He’s going to compete every single play, he’s going to block, he’s going to catch, he’s going to run after the catch. So, when you have guys like that that are that talented and they don’t care who gets the success, then you have guys who you can go out there and execute and win football games with.”

Kelce’s words echoed Mahomes’ description.

“I’m not the same without 10 other guys on that football field playing their tail off to move the ball down the field,” Kelce assured. “I’m a firm believer that individual accolades are overrated in this game.”

Even as Kelce put up the second-most receiving yards he’s had in a game all year, he couldn’t help but find the parts of his performance where he seeks improvement.

“Honestly, I’m my worst critic,” Kelce shared. “I’ll leave a game thinking I didn’t play that great, and that’s happened over the past couple games. Today, I know there were about 5-10 plays I wish I would’ve had back. I could’ve been better for my teammates in the run game and the pass game... It’s nonstop having that mentality of wanting to get better, and never being satisfied with that.”

He’s not just pointing the finger at himself; the offense didn’t play up to its standards, and the players and coaches don’t take the failures lightly.

“You can’t look too far ahead, knowing that we still have a lot of work to do... shoutout to the Broncos for playing very good defense. They stuffed us in the red zone and the past two times we played them we struggled on third down. Accepting that challenge every single week and trying to become a better football team because of it is just the mentality we have.”

That’s part of what makes this Chiefs team great: even with most of this year’s team achieving the ultimate goal of winning the Super Bowl last season, they all embrace the challenge of being even better. They aren’t complacent in their performance just because they did enough to win last year; they are constantly seeking improvement.

Kelce embodies that mindset as much as anybody. Even when he was talked about like an elite player earlier in his career, he wasn’t satisfied — and that has evolved into an entirely different level of elite.

This level of elite has him in serious consideration for the NFL’s Offensive Player of the Year award. It may look good in his trophy case, but there’s only one trophy Kelce cares about — and it isn’t voted upon or handed out.

It’s earned.