Early in the Kansas City Chiefs’ 17-10 victory over the Baltimore Ravens in the AFC Championship, it looked as if the team’s offense would rule the day. The Chiefs scored touchdowns on their first two drives — including yet another postseason connection for quarterback Patrick Mahomes and tight end Travis Kelce. It was just what offensive coordinator Matt Nagy wanted to see.
“I thought that coming out to start that first half, [it] was so important to get a lead, to stay ahead of the chains [and] not get in third-and-long in that game,” Nagy recalled on Friday. “When Pat made that throw to Travis for the touchdown to start, I knew we were going to be in good hands throughout the rest of the game.
“That was just such a special throw and a great catch. It was really good defense by them. You get some momentum; you get some first downs. We would have loved to have that screen there at the end to go up 21-7 — [but we] didn’t get it.”
In fact, after taking a 17-7 lead into the locker room at halftime, Kansas City didn’t score again. While he had confidence in Kansas City’s championship-caliber defense, Nagy did not expect to be held scoreless for the final two quarters.
“In the second half, [there were] just too many three-and-outs,” he admitted. “I do think some of that was how the game was going [with] our defense versus their offense; field position wasn’t as good. We had one where we got the stop, backed up and we ended up moving the ball to about midfield and we punted it on down.
“We flipped the field darn near 80 yards [or] 90 yards. That’s a part of that game. We know we’ve got to be better. We weren’t as good that second half.”
After being pretty quiet during the second half of the season, Kelce has looked his normal self in the playoffs, scoring three touchdowns and exceeding 70 receiving yards in all three postseason games. Nagy believes that Kelce’s new vibe is bringing out the best in his offense.
“It’s real,” he declared. “The energy that he brings is so contagious. He’s been doing this [for] a long time with a lot of success. When he brings that energy, people just feed off of it. It’s not easy to do that every day in practice — and then take it to the game. [On] game day, he’s always in a good place.
“Throughout the week, he’s done a really good job this year of making sure that we follow him and Pat with that energy. Our offense right now is in a good place feeding off of [their] energy — and I think when those two guys have that energy, they follow.”
One player who appears to be in a better place in the playoffs is wide receiver Marquez Valdes-Scantling. After a dreadful 2023 campaign that was punctuated by key miscues in nationally televised games, Valdes-Scantling has been a much more reliable player in the postseason. Against the Ravens, the veteran wideout made a clutch 32-yard reception at the two-minute warning that allowed the Chiefs to seal the game.
“It shows who he is,” said Nagy. “Quez is a guy that is internally driven — and mentally very resilient. He knows more than anybody that throughout the middle of the season — when there were some things going on, not just with him but our offense in general — that we all look at ourselves. It’s just crazy when you look back. At that moment, I remember being on the field when he made that catch and just thinking, ‘Man, life is crazy.’
“What he’s gone through... for him to stick through that and make a play? For Pat to trust him and throw him the football? That kind of in a nutshell explains who we are as a team... Everyone executed. It wasn’t just his good route; it wasn’t just a good throw. There was good protection [and] there were other guys running good routes. It ended the game in a moment when we needed that play.”
Despite Valdes-Scantling’s disappointing regular season, Nagy had no second thoughts about the play-call. If the receiver did not have the staff’s confidence, the play wouldn’t have been in the game plan.
“If the play is in a certain way,” Nagy explained, “it’s in with no hesitation — no reservation. We put that play in. I think everyone’s seen the clip of Pat saying, ‘Give me the ball’ in that situation. That’s what we get, internally, a lot. So at that moment, we’re going to give him the ball. Usually, good things happen.”
The Chiefs will need more good things to happen to defeat the San Francisco 49ers in Super Bowl LVIII. Nagy has a lot of respect for San Francisco’s innovative offense engineered by head coach Kyle Shanahan.
“[Shanahan] does a lot of great stuff,” observed Nagy. “I think the thing with Coach Shanahan is that he stays creative, does a lot of the stuff they do really well, and finds different ways to window-dress it.
“He’s got great players and great scheme — and when you match that together, you get to this point. [I have a] ton of respect for him. It’s not something that’s happened [over] one or two years. It’s been his whole career — and it’s in the run game and the pass game.”