While we were watching the Kansas City Chiefs’ 41-10 dismantling of the Chicago Bears on Sunday afternoon, it might not have been obvious — but on his third-quarter touchdown reception, tight end Travis Kelce didn’t run the route he was assigned.
Instead, he improvised a route based on what he was seeing the Bears’ defenders do — and quarterback Patrick Mahomes followed right along, flinging him a 3-yard pass that looked like it had been drawn up months ago.
Speaking to reporters on Thursday, offensive coordinator Matt Nagy agreed that it was hard to understand how this psychic connection between Mahomes and Kelce really works.
“You’re talking about two guys that have the instincts that not many people have,” he observed. “But I will say too, [that] this past week isn’t the first time, obviously, where they’ve done some things within a route that [have] been a little bit unscripted. That’s been going on for years and years.”
On Tuesday, the Chiefs released a mic’d up video of the play and its aftermath, during which Mahomes and Kelce discussed what happened.
“I’m glad you saw it,” said Mahomes. “I didn’t know if you were gonna do it.”
Travis just does what he wants pic.twitter.com/FTGydDm3HP— Kansas City Chiefs (@Chiefs) September 27, 2023
But of course... Mahomes did know — or else the play wouldn’t have happened. How in the world did this mind-meld even happen?
The reigning MVP quarterback always gets that question — notably from his backup Blaine Gabbert — but doesn’t know the answer.
“I just kind of understand what he’s going to do,” he said of his starting tight end on Wednesday, “[including] some stuff that he’s not really supposed to do.
“There are times in practice where we were thinking about making a call for that [route] when we get that look — [a call] for him to run that route. I remember I was telling the coaches, ‘I mean, I don’t know why we need a call; he’s going to do it anyways.’”
It often works for Mahomes and Kelce — but not necessarily for Mahomes and other players. And that — according to Nagy — can be a problem for the team’s coaches.
“There’s a balance,” he noted, “because sometimes when you’re watching tape with these rookies — or guys that come in — they ask, ‘Well, why did Kelce do that? Or do this?’”
And Nagy can’t really answer that question — because what Kelce and Mahomes can do is beyond the understanding of mere mortals such as NFL coaches. Nagy can see the broad outlines of how it works — but that’s about all.
“He has an innate ability to recognize defenses,” said Nagy of his tight end. “I mean, it’s on another level. What’s crazier is the fact that Pat knows it too. You know, there [are] some times we don’t even practice it; they just do it.
“So when you have that — and you incorporate that into your scheme and what you do — there’s a lot of trust (as coaches) that they’re going to do that.”
Which is fine — because it works for them. The problem is that it won’t work for other players. So Nagy has to ensure that the rest of the offensive players understand they can’t exist on the same spiritual plane as Mahomes and Kelce; there’s a different set of rules for them.
“There’s some stuff in there — DNA-wise — between those two guys that a lot of people don’t have,” claimed Nagy. “They have that connection.”
And as long as the tight end and quarterback can make it work, head coach Andy Reid is pleased to let them improvise — “as long as he and Pat are on the same page.”
“When [Kelce is] walled [by a defender],” explained Reid, “we give him some flexibility there.”
And then Reid smiled.
“He’s had a few of those.”
And we could easily see more of them when “Sunday Night Football” gets underway against the New York Jets this weekend.