Coming out of the Divisional Round this week, the buzz in Kansas City was all about the role tight end Travis Kelce played in those final 13 seconds of regulation. The Kansas City Chiefs trailed the Buffalo Bills 36-33 — and needed to somehow, someway get in kicker Harrison Butker’s field-goal range.
First, Kelce directed wide receiver Tyreek Hill to run behind him on his route, so that he could block. That led to a gain of 19. Then he mentioned the seam to Patrick Mahomes, who told him to “do it.”
He did...for 25 yards — and the rest, as they say, is history. Kelce spoke to the media on Friday.
“It’s all up to coach Reid’s design on every certain play,” said the tight end, who was paying tribute to his elite predecessor in donning a Tony Gonzalez T-shirt.
“[Reid’s] trusted a lot of what we do on the field to be more friendly and just make the job for the quarterback a little bit easier by getting open earlier or finding a different void — but for the most part, it’s in coach Reid’s playbook to be able to give guys that freedom and understand that, ‘Yeah, I’m going to dial this up when I know that it’s this coverage or that coverage.’
“Based off of which one presents itself, that’s the route that you need to switch it up to. I mean, it’s been going on a lot longer than just this season. Since coach Reid’s been working with the Eagles. There’s a lot of film of guys running it back then. I think he trusts the guys that have grown in this offense because we understand the intentions of the play-caller, and the way he teaches it and this offensive staff teaches it and makes it easy to understand, especially when you start to gain more and more reps throughout the years.”
At this stage, Kelce and Mahomes have the benefit of not only time — but also time with Reid. Kelce’s been through two starting quarterbacks, beginning his career by working with Alex Smith. Hill came along three years after Kelce — in 2016 — and has logged six years under “Big Red.”
Mahomes, who is in his fourth year (and entering his fourth AFC title game vs. the Cincinnati Bengals on Sunday) as the Chiefs’ starter, discussed the team’s process of calling and changing plays on Friday.
“You have to diagnose stuff before the snap and then you have to be able to adjust after the snap, that pre and post-snap adjustments,” explained Mahomes. “I think it helps out to have guys like Tyreek and Travis that can recognize coverages on the run and are able to adjust their routes. I think coach [Andy] Reid does a great job of having answers on every single play for every single coverage.
“It’s about me recognizing the coverage, getting the ball out of my hands and getting it to those guys at the right time. We definitely have audibles and different things we change too before the snap, but at the same time we like to be able to adjust on the fly and post-snap as well.”
As players gain years of experience with Reid, that translates to more say.
“Without a doubt, it’s more collaborative,” said Kelce of the offense, comparing it to 2014, his second season and the first full year he played. “I think we had kind of a younger team on the offensive side outside of Alex Smith and a few offensive linemen and obviously, Dwayne Bowe and Jamaal Charles. But for the most part... the core guys were really young, just trying to understand the offense. And throughout the nine years or eight years that we’ve been here, it’s gradually grown into a player-friendly offense where we could do stuff like that.
“I’m always in coach’s ear, but at the end of the day, he’s got 51%, so he’ll be the one dialing them up and drawing them up — but I definitely think he hears the suggestions that guys think they can help out the offense in certain ways.”
Between Reid’s offensive mind and the Chiefs’ talented skill players’ natural ability, Kansas City becomes incredibly difficult to beat — especially when Reid gives them to nod to improvise.
It could be the primary reason why this team finds itself in a fourth straight conference title game.