“There wasn’t any doubt in my mind,” the superstar tight end said after the Chiefs beat the Jaguars 17-9.
But Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes wasn’t as certain during the week leading up to Sunday’s game in Florida.
“The fact that he played, it surprised me honestly,” Mahomes said. “That’s a scary injury. He didn’t look good there for a little bit.”
The injury occurred two days before the Chiefs’ opening game on Sept. 7. But that timing gave Kelce a few extra days to heal.
And although he didn’t turn in a monster game Sunday, he came up big when it mattered.
Kelce and Mahomes synced up for a third-quarter touchdown. From the 9, Mahomes rolled right, spotted Kelce alone in the end zone and the Chiefs took a 14-6 lead.
— ESPN (@espn) September 17, 2023
The play marked Mahomes’ 47th regular-season touchdown pass to Kelce, his favorite target, since 2018.
The play made the Mahomes-Kelce connection the most prolific in team history. They had been tied with Len Dawson and Otis Taylor, who connected for 46 career touchdowns.
“It’s kind of just me and Trav, doing the scramble drill,” said Mahomes, who added he regretted not hitting Kelce for a second touchdown later. Kelce had his man beat at the pylon, but the throw was just a bit off.
Although the Chiefs coughed up three turnovers and committed 12 penalties, Mahomes insisted having Kelce on the field made a difference in their passing game.
“Having him out there, not only does he make plays, he helps everybody else,” Mahomes said. “He gets other guys open. Truly just a great teammate.”
Kelce, who finished with four receptions on nine targets for 26 yards, would like to have added more to the offense. Two of his receptions were wiped out by penalties on offensive-line teammates.
And Kelce added to the penalty total with an unsportsmanlike-conduct flag.
“Wish I could have helped my team out more than I did,” he said. “But we got the W.”
The knee injury, Kelce said, happened on a “routine play. I got caught in a bad position.” He also said he didn’t know the severity of the injury right away.
“Initially, yeah, it was like, ‘What the heck happened?’” he said. “... I started working with the training staff, rehab, just put full trust in the medical staff we have here, so I could get out there and help.”
Without Kelce, the Chiefs’ offense stalled in their opening-game home loss to the Detroit Lions. Wide receivers dropped passes, the route-running seemed off and the Chiefs couldn’t overcome their own issues.
Different issues confronted Mahomes and the offense during Sunday’s game. But the return of Kelce, not to mention defensive tackle Chris Jones (who missed the opener as a contract holdout), made the Chiefs a more complete team against the Jaguars.
More fun, too.
After his touchdown, Kelce turned to the end zone bleachers and punted the ball about 20 rows up.