- Covered Chiefs for 20 seasons for Kansas City Star
- Joined ESPN in 2013
INGLEWOOD, Calif. — There was never a doubt about who Patrick Mahomes would look to for the winning touchdown in the final minute of Sunday night’s game against the Los Angeles Chargers.
It would be the player who caught each of the Kansas City Chiefs’ earlier touchdowns, the one Mahomes always seems to look for with the game on the line, the one the Chiefs relied on more than ever on Sunday because of their depleted wide receiver group.
Travis Kelce delivered. Kelce’s 17-yard touchdown catch from Mahomes with 31 seconds left gave the 8-2 Chiefs a 30-27 victory, one that puts them three games ahead of the 5-5 Chargers, their closest pursuers in the AFC West.
Mahomes afterward called Kelce “the greatest tight end of all time” and said on any given play he’ll go through his reads as instructed by his coaches unless Kelce is in man-to-man coverage.
“Then I throw him the ball,” Mahomes said. “I’m not joking at all. If he’s man-to-man, I’m going to give him a chance. He’s going to win most of them.
“[The Chargers have safety] Derwin [James], so Derwin is going to win his battles because he’s probably the best safety in the league. But I’m going to give my guy a chance because I know how special he is.”
The winning touchdown was the fourth from Mahomes to Kelce in the final minute of regulation or overtime. Only one other quarterback-receiver combo — Neil Lomax and Roy Green of the Cardinals — has had as many since 1970.
“You’d like it to last forever,” Chiefs coach Andy Reid said. “These guys grow old and it’s not (going to last forever), so what I do is I try to enjoy every minute of it, every play. Their chemistry is ridiculous.
“They had a plan for (Kelce). They were going to bang him around and then they put an All-Pro safety on him. So he had to fight like crazy the whole game and kind of come up with things on the fly to get himself open.”
Kelce did well enough to lead his team with six receptions, 115 yards and all three Chiefs touchdowns. The Chiefs needed every catch, yard and score from Kelce. They played without two of their top wide receivers, JuJu Smith-Schuster and Mecole Hardman, and lost another, Kadarius Toney, early in the game to a hamstring injury.
“We didn’t have our full arsenal of weapons.” Kelce said. “Knowing that it was gonna be an opportunity, I personally was ready for the matchup (with James). I knew they were going to play a lot of man-to-man coverage and I knew that Pat was gonna be looking for me when it was one-on-one coverage.
“(James) is the best — one of the best, if not the best — in the league. He got the better of me for the majority of the game. It’s one of those things where you would hope to get the right things dialed up at the right moments. Sure enough, at the end of the game, I knew he was kind of sitting on my outside shoulder on a lot of this stuff so anything vertical and anything outside, he was locking me up pretty good. Coach Reid saw that and called a play where I could just get cross field and try and beat him, beat him with my legs, these old 33- year-old) legs.”
The Chiefs, who trailed by a touchdown at halftime, have now rallied to win five straight games dating back to last season after being behind at the break. That’s the second longest streak in NFL history. Three teams have won six such games in a row.
Someday, presumably, the Chiefs will lose a game after being in such a situation. But they found a way to win on Sunday night when Kelce wouldn’t let them fail.
“He’s just a competitor,” Mahomes said. “I think that’s the best talent that Travis has. It’s not the size, the speed, the route running. It’s that he will compete to the very end and he’s going to go down fighting.
“I think that I’m the same way as I’m going to do whatever I can to win no matter what the score is. We have a lot of guys like that on this team and I think that’s what makes great teams is guys that won’t give up even when it doesn’t look great.”
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