By the end of the Kansas City Chiefs’ 30-29 win over the Las Vegas Raiders on Monday Night Football, tight end Travis Kelce had only 25 receiving yards — one of the lowest single-game marks of his career. On its five scoring possessions, the offense was forced to find other ways to move the ball down the field.
Yet once the Chiefs were inside the 10-yard line, Kelce magically became unstoppable again. Each of Kansas City’s touchdown drives ended with a pass to Kelce in the end zone, giving him four scores on the evening. It was a historic feat — something only three other tight ends have ever done — and a record for any player on a Monday night stage.
Kelce still found a way to have an elite performance despite the attention placed on him outside the 20-yard line; the Raiders held him to only three catches and 11 yards outside of the red zone.
Speaking after the game, quarterback Patrick Mahomes said that Las Vegas had been effective in limiting his favorite target.
“They had a good game plan,” Mahomes observed. “That old New England one: hit him off the line of scrimmage, double-cover him. I thought the other guys responded, made some big plays happen. That’s what we needed to see out of our offense.”
That stronger attention on Kelce did present opportunities for the team’s wide receivers. Marquez Valdes-Scantling was the biggest beneficiary, leading the entire team with 90 yards on six catches for the night. Mecole Hardman also found space, with two gains of at least 28 yards in the second half.
Valdes-Scantling understands that he benefits from Kelce’s gravity — and appreciates that the Chiefs’ offense takes advantage of it.
“Obviously, Kelce is the best tight end in the history of football — so he’s going to demand that week-in, week-out,” he reflected in his post-game press conference. “When you have a guy like that, you honor those things — and take advantage when they start to put two or three guys on his side of the field, then you take advantage of the one-on-ones that you get.”
It’s not hard to imagine that it’s fatiguing for the 33-year-old tight end to deal with all the physicality that comes with that attention. At one point in the game, Kelce drew a flag for illegal contact when a safety blew him up as he ran his route.
But in the same breath, he’s used to it — and because he’s Travis Kelce, he embraces the challenge.
“I love it,” he insisted. “Bring it. I’m going to bring it so you have to do a triple team. That’s my mentality. I still have to find ways to be open, I still have to be there for the quarterback on time. I take pride in — even if they’re trying to hit me at the line of scrimmage — being able to get through that and still get in the route, still be on time. It’s just a mentality to never be stopped.”
And according to Kelce, there are some benefits, too.
“It gets me fired up,” he said. “Because then I can talk smack to the two that are guarding me, saying ‘You might want to go to your defensive coordinator and switch it up here, bud.’”
After his four scores, that’s what Kelce was telling Las Vegas defenders. Mahomes and Kelce’s chemistry and experience together simply overwhelm any strategy to take it away. Even when Kelce isn’t the primary read, their connection gives Mahomes the confidence to come back to him. That’s what happened on his first score of the night — when neither Valdes-Scantling or JuJu Smith-Schuster were open.
87 wasn't the 1st read on all of his TDs. Pat explained this one in postgame:— Ron Kopp Jr. (@Ron_Kopp) October 11, 2022
“It was actually Juju. How the play turned out, Marquez kind of got pushed down a little bit, so I was going to throw to Juju — and I ended up hitting [Kelce] over the top in the back of the end zone." pic.twitter.com/oM5RpTiqZY
“On the first one, it was actually JuJu,” Mahomes pointed out. “How the play turned out, Marquez kind of got pushed down a little bit, so I was going to throw to Juju — and I ended up hitting [Kelce] over the top in the back line of the end zone.”
Two drives later, the Chiefs were back in the red zone — and once again, the Mahomes and Kelce connection beat the coverage.
Kelce's 3rd TD was just 15 & 87 doing what they do -- but watch Mecole hold his block and finish off the play— Ron Kopp Jr. (@Ron_Kopp) October 11, 2022
Travis shouted Mecole out in his post-game presser for the block. It was a good all-around game for 17 pic.twitter.com/sOhCKJ72y3
“The one shallow crossing catch, that was just a possession throw to make it third and manageable at the goal,” Mahomes noted. “Then he takes it all the way back across the field. So sometimes he’s the main guy — and sometimes I just go through my reads and he gets himself open.”
Taking a closer look at the play, the success comes from Kelce’s high football IQ in the scramble drill — understanding the flow of the defense in reaction to the play call. He’s also sprung with help from wide receiver Mecole Hardman, doing the dirty work at the goal line.
“I know with how creative [Mahomes] is, he’s going to find a way to get the ball to anyone in the right position,” Kelce acknowledged. “Sure enough, I caught my momentum going across the field, knowing that everybody was flowing to the side that I caught the ball on. From there, I got a huge block by Mecole and just made a couple guys miss to be able to get in there.”
On Monday night, the whole receiving room boosted each other up — and as the season moves forward, that will have to be a recurring theme. Teams will continue their attempts at taking Kelce away — so a game like Valdes-Scantling had against Las Vegas will sometimes be necessary.
But even when he is limited, Kelce can still have a historic, four-touchdown performance that helps spark a 17-point comeback. It’s a continuation of what the tight end has done all season: maximizing every inch of impact he can make on the game. It’s one of the big reasons the Chiefs’ new-look passing offense has been so effective.