Through the first half of the Kansas City Chiefs’ 27-20 win over the Minnesota Vikings, tight end Travis Kelce was having a rough day at the office. He was involved, catching five passes, but he only totaled 22 yards on them. None resulted in a first down, and the last one ended in seemingly disastrous fashion.
Travis Kelce hurt his right foot/leg on this play, a non-contact injury, and then headed to the locker room: pic.twitter.com/ogfEu6iIOB— Adam Schefter (@AdamSchefter) October 8, 2023
Trying to plant on his right foot, Kelce slipped — and that led to him hobbling to the sideline, then the locker room. Fans’ minds wandered to the worst-case scenarios, while his teammates and coaches were just as much in the dark initially.
“I wasn’t clear,” head coach Andy Reid confirmed to reporters after the game. “Until he came out and told me. He said, ‘Just give me a minute, I’m going to get this thing right.’”
Reid clarified that he got that message from Kelce at the start of the third quarter after the team had taken the field for the second half. Kelce’s right foot was heavily wrapped, but he was not settling for being sidelined.
“He did a bunch of drills on his own there, working with it,” Reid recalled. “Our training staff was working with him during halftime (vice president of sports and medicine and head athletic trainer). Rick [Burkholder] does a great job. It’s pretty amazing.”
During the first possession of the second half, Kelce didn’t make an impact — but that wasn’t for a lack of effort. CBS broadcast cameras caught the tight end trying to run on the field before the coaching staff reeled him back in. Quarterback Patrick Mahomes was familiar with that feeling, discussing it after the game with reporters.
“I saw him on the sideline on that first drive,” Mahomes recalled. “It was kind of the role reversal: me in the playoffs, just standing there on the sideline trying to get back in.”
“Travis has the same mindset as I do: if you give him the window to get back in the game, he’s going to try and get back in the game. He’s a competitor; it’s why he’s one of the greatest: he’ll battle through stuff like that. He came back and made a lot of great catches for us.”
The second drive of the third quarter ended up being the game-deciding possession, and Kelce was an enormous part of that. Of the 10 passes he caught on Sunday, only three resulted in either a first down or a touchdown; all three came on the first drive he was back on the field.
Of Travis Kelce's 10 catches v MIN, only 3 resulted in a first down / TD— Ron Kopp Jr. (@Ron_Kopp) October 9, 2023
All 3 came on the same drive, his first one back in game, helping KC take 27-13 lead late in 3Q
The first was 3rd & 7. Despite tight man coverage, Mahomes said post-game he "Just put it up to the big guy." pic.twitter.com/Bijkv0XPML
On the drive’s initial third down, the team needed seven yards. Mahomes looked to Kelce, who was blanketed by a defender — but it didn’t stop him from trusting the All-Pro to make a play.
“The defensive back played good coverage,” Mahomes remembered. “It was man coverage, he played outside leverage, and we were trying to run an out route. I stepped up in the pocket, and I just wanted to give him a chance, just put it up to the big guy. He made a tough catch.
“It was a big-time catch in a big moment in the game, and obviously we were able to go down and score after that.”
The 3rd & 8 conversion— Ron Kopp Jr. (@Ron_Kopp) October 9, 2023
Kelce's supposed to draw DBs in, giving Toney space down the sideline. Once that doesn't work like it's supposed to, 87 improvises, and 15 was thankful for that post game:
"I’m like ‘I’m about to get crushed,’ then I look over and 87 is just running free" pic.twitter.com/AFrjpybGQL
The touchdown drive hit another hiccup before scoring, this time in the red zone. Needing eight yards on third down, the Chiefs tried to bait Minnesota into believing they wanted to play conservatively with a quick screen to Kelce. It was meant to open up space down the sideline for wide receiver Kadarius Toney, and when it didn’t, Mahomes had to improvise.
“I pumped, the corner fell off, and I stepped up in the pocket,” Mahomes recalled. “Travis was supposed to be on the sideline, and luckily he was running across the field. I have those moments where I’m like ‘Uhh, I’m about to get crushed,’ then I look over and 87 is just running free.
“He has been with me for a long time and knows how to get himself open when he gets an opportunity.”
This Travis Kelce TD is brought to you by x-ray machines and exquisite mustaches.— Arrowhead Pride (@ArrowheadPride) October 8, 2023
That instinctual talent led to the drive-capping touchdown as well, where Kelce read the zone defense to find the perfect spot for Mahomes to safely throw him the ball. He rolled into the end zone and gave the Chiefs the last touchdown they needed to secure a victory in Minnesota.
Travis Kelce afterward pointing to his heart .. saying "All heart, baby" to the #Chiefs crowd .. then gives a young girl some game worn gear. (our own @Indiana_Johns_ with the shot) #Chiefs pic.twitter.com/UywE0NRm3X— Harold R. Kuntz (@HaroldRKuntz3) October 9, 2023
As much as we marvel at the intelligence Kelce displays to get open for his MVP quarterback, Sunday’s performance was “all heart,” from the mouth of Kelce himself.
FOX4 Sports Anchor Harold Kuntz captured Kelce describing his gutsy performance to fans as he left the field on Sunday.
He didn’t light up the box score, nor did he make a game-winning catch late in the fourth quarter of a tight game. But his grit, toughness and outright refusal to be sidelined made this a worthwhile, memorable moment in his Hall of Fame career.