It isn’t necessary to look much further than last week’s 36-yard game-winning touchdown catch against the Los Angeles Chargers to know just how vital tight end Travis Kelce is to the Kansas City Chiefs.
The reigning AFC offensive player of the week is currently out of practice and on the Reserve/COVID-19 list — as is the team’s yards, receptions and touchdowns leader: wide receiver Tyreek Hill.
One would think it may have been odd for quarterback Patrick Mahomes to take the practice field without his top two targets on Wednesday, as the Chiefs began preparation for Sunday’s matchup against the Pittsburgh Steelers — but he stressed that it was business as usual.
“It wasn’t too different, I guess you would say,” said Mahomes, speaking to the media on Zoom. “Throughout practices, especially with those two guys, we try to let other guys get some reps in to not only get those other guys reps and get them work but to let them rest their legs with Travis and Tyreek because they run so many routes on game days.”
That last part is a good note for this week, as Kelce and Hill can’t be around the team — yet they can still ingest the team’s offensive meetings virtually. They won’t get the on-the-field reps, but Mahomes has little worry that they will be ready to play if they can test out of the protocol in time for the game.
“Those guys have gotten a lot of reps with me just within this offense and this league,” said Mahomes. “Obviously, it’s a really complex (Steelers) defense that we’re facing, and they’ve played it a couple times, even before I was here. So, for me, as long as they’re healthy and they’re safe and they’ve passed the protocols and they’re back, we’ll throw them right back into the offense. They’ll be able to take on the roles that they’ve always had.”
Whether Kelce and Hill will be activated by Sunday remains a grand mystery; that will come down to testing — something that has been rather tough to predict.
If they can’t go, the Chiefs may have to embrace a more balanced attack, featuring running back Clyde Edwards-Helaire and wide receivers Demarcus Robinson, Byron Pringle, Mecole Hardman — and at least still somewhat-of-a-newcomer in Josh Gordon.
Mahomes has stayed confident in the 6-foot-3, 238-pound Gordon — despite his inability to truly break out in his nine games as a Chief. Gordon enters Sunday’s game with four catches for 27 yards, but he did catch a touchdown in the last game he played: the Chiefs’ Week 14 matchup against the Las Vegas Raiders.
“He’s done it before,” said Mahomes of Gordon. “He’s been able to go out there and produce at a high level in this league. He still has the talent; he still has the work ethic, and now it’s just about going out there and getting more opportunities.
“Hopefully, we’re able to get Travis and Tyreek back, but if not, we have other guys that will step up and take on those roles. In part, a receiver here, a receiver there, running backs, tight ends and we’ll find a way to make up for the production that we’re missing.”
Still, the Chiefs will have to find a way to replace the intangibles that come with two future Pro Football Hall of Famers, ones who have a combined 185 catches, 2,244 yards and 16 receiving touchdowns on the season.
“There are obviously some routes and stuff like that, that Travis and Tyreek can run that no one else in this world really can,” added Mahomes. “Really, we just went out there and put a game plan together, trusting these guys to make plays happen and we got the guys to do it. We got the speed; we got the playmakers and I’m going to keep trusting in them.
“Hopefully we have Trav and Tyreek back, but if not, we’ll be ready to go.”