For Kansas City Chiefs rookie wide receiver Rashee Rice, the first of what will hopefully be many postseasons has been a resounding success.
In the Chiefs’ 26-7 Wild Card victory over the Miami Dolphins, the SMU product recorded 130 receiving yards — a franchise postseason record for a rookie — and scored a touchdown. Against the Buffalo Bills in the Divisional Round, three of his four catches in the 27-24 win resulted in first downs.
Reflecting on his first playoff experiences, Rice admitted that things change when the stakes are raised.
“Every game,” the rookie observed before Thursday’s practice, “it just seems like it gets a little faster. Obviously, we’re kind of getting prepared for that throughout the week just because it’s real intense in there; intensity goes up in practice. The margin of error goes down [to] little to none.”
Offensive coordinator Matt Nagy now trusts Rice to work within that small space.
“It’s been really great to see Rashee, every week, get a little bit better within the play calls, the play design [and] within the game of him just making plays,” Nagy told reporters on Thursday. “Whether it’s his explosiveness, his physicality, his ability to make contested catches, his ability to make the easy catches and stay away from drops, he’s doing it in elements of weather — and he’s doing it in [the] elements of playoff games. That, to me, is what’s really, really neat: to see him grow as a rookie.”
The NFL’s biggest star echoed Nagy’s sentiments.
“He’s gotten a lot better,” quarterback Patrick Mahomes observed of Rice. “Every single week, he continues to get better and better. He’s learned from early mistakes he’s made — and doesn’t make them again.
“He learns from the right guys... He asks the coaches the right questions. He’s done a great job throughout the entire season — and it seems like the bigger the game. the more plays he makes.”
Rice would certainly list Mahomes as one of the “right guys” teaching him to be a pro.
“Every day,” the rookie said of Mahomes. “we’re always putting in different routes and stuff like that, changing up personnel and formations. When it comes to running certain routes against zone and man defense — without me even having to go to Pat — [he] is going to let me know what he’s looking for, so I know how to run my route.”
Late in the season, Mahomes and Rice improved their chemistry for connecting on improvised plays. Rice trusts his quarterback to know when to break from a designed play — and says he is “very close” to having a full understanding of his Mahomes’ wizardry.
“I see some plays where I’m waiting — and expecting for Pat to give me a sign because I feel like I can win on the route,” he explained. “[But] sometimes, I’ve just got to stick to the route — and know Pat knows what he is doing.”
The length of an NFL season is a always major adjustment for a rookie — and as usual, the Chiefs are playing a longer one than most teams. Although Rice has recently been listed on the injury report for receiving treatment on a hamstring, he is happy with how his body has adjusted — and grateful for the teammates who have helped him prepare.
“I’ve got the vets around me,” he noted. “They teach me how to take care of my body throughout the long season. I was looking forward to having a long season this year — despite getting ready for the combine and the draft and stuff like that — because I love this game. I didn’t get to the NFL to have a short season.”
For Rice’s first season to go on even longer, Kansas City will need to take care of business at M&T Bank Stadium on Sunday in the AFC Championship against the Baltimore Ravens. Rice respects the challenge his new team will face in Baltimore.
“I see an aggressive defense,” he observed. “They’ve got great corners, great size. At the end of the day — as far as a full defense goes — they’re really good at rallying to the ball. We’ve just got to make our catches, be ready to get tackled — and score touchdowns.”
But whatever happens, Rice has learned that he and his teammates can count on each other.
“We just know we come here every day to put in the work together,” he said. “So if anybody is going to be leaning on somebody, it’s going to be us on each other.”