The future Pro Football Hall of Famer ran a short pass 17 yards to the end zone for the go-ahead score with only 31 seconds remaining. It was his third touchdown of the game.
The play instantly drew comparisons to the end of Kansas City’s 34-28 Week 15 victory in Los Angeles last season, when Kelce took a similar pass 34 yards for a game-winning overtime score.
According to the tight end, there may be a reason to be experiencing deja vu. Kelce told Peter King of NBC Sports after the game that the two game-winning plays stemmed from the same play call.
“Funny thing is,” Kelce told me 40 minutes after the game, “we ran the same play to win this game last year.”
Speaking to reporters via Zoom on Monday, Chiefs head coach Andy Reid confirmed his star player’s claim, while explaining the factors that allowed the same crucial play to work against the same opponent in consecutive seasons.
Reid also credited Chiefs wide receiver Justin Watson as critical to Kelce’s heroics.
“I know Kelce said that,” Reid explained, “it really was. It was the same play. It was doctored up a little bit with the motion, but that combination with Watson and Kelce in there has been good since training camp on the crossing route.
“Really, Watson is the primary on it — but it normally comes to number two on the shallow cross there that Kelce got. But Watson’s also a big part of that play [with] how he works inside and he kind of creates a bit of a wall in there where the defender has to make up his mind. Is he going to go over or under it and how is he going to handle that? Normally, it throws them off by a step.
“Yeah, it was basically the same play.”
Kelce broke coverage from Chargers safety Derwin James — widely considered among the league’s best defensive players. Reid explained clues they saw in the Chargers’ coverage throughout the night that helped give Kelce the advantage.
“We’re always aware of how they’re trying to play [James],” Reid reiterated. “Derwin was playing a little bit more outside leverage. He changed it up a little bit — but he played mostly outside leverage. We figured even though it’s tight — and he’s still trying to hit him — that Kelce could set him up. Also the man coverage stuff — they really jumped into a lot of man coverage.”
Reid made Kelce part of his initial 2013 draft class in Kansas City. Though this season marks their 10th season working together, the coach noticed a difference this year.
“I know [Kelce] made a cognizant effort this year of coming back in great shape,” Reid observed. “He maintained that all the way through the offseason and into training camp. I think that’s helped him — especially for this year. Last year he came in a little bit heavy and kind of worked through it. This year he came in in phenomenal shape.”
That phenomenal shape has Kelce sixth in the league through 11 weeks with 855 receiving yards. More impressively, he is the league leader with 11 receiving touchdowns. One of his teammates is not taking for granted what he is seeing.
After missing last season’s game in Los Angeles due to COVID, Chiefs defensive tackle Chris Jones was happy not to have missed the sequel.
“I wasn’t here last year to enjoy that moment where T-Kelce scored it in for what, 30 or 35 yards?” Jones recalled speaking after the game. “But this year, I was here to enjoy it and appreciate that moment. Travis Kelce is one of the best in the league — and Pat is playing at an MVP level.”