MINNEAPOLIS, Minn. — Travis Kelce added another special moment to his Hall of Fame career.
After the Minnesota Vikings took a 13-10 lead with 1:39 to go in the second half against the Kansas City Chiefs, KC evened the score before the half.
The Chiefs offense got to work with quarterback Patrick Mahomes hitting Kelce on a slant pattern for nine yards.
The next play, Kelce did one of his routine routes, where he blocks a defender after the snap and then flashes himself open. At first glance, Kelce is wide open with lots of running room.
After Kelce made the catch, on his second step, he twisted his right heel in the slit film turf of U.S. Bank Stadium, that opened in 2016, and fell to the ground without contact.
NFLPA President JC Tretter penned a letter that included banning slit film turf in the interest of player safety. U.S. Bank’s turf is scheduled to be replaced next season.
Kelce was helped up to his feet by teammates before jogging off the field. The Chiefs drove the field and tied the game at 13 at the half.
During the drive, Kelce was seen talking with trainers and anguishing on the bench, most likely about not being in the game. He limped to the locker room right before halftime.
“It was a little weird because it happened right before half,” Mahomes said. “And so we obviously had that two-minute drive and then get back to the locker room.”
“If Travis is out of the game, it hurts, but I knew he was trying to get back in. And I feel like Travis is in the same mindset as I do.”
“You give him a window of like he can get back in the game, he’s gonna be back in the game. Competitive, man. It’s why he’s one of the greatest, is that he’ll battle through stuff like that, and came back and made a lot of great catches for us.”
While Kelce was working to play in the second half, Mahomes knew to steer clear of one of his closest friends as he went through a rough moment.
“I don’t like to talk to Travis when he’s hurting because he’s a mean guy,” Mahomes said. “I did not talk to him at halftime, but kind of just peeked in there and looked at Rick [Burkholder] (Chiefs head athletic trainer), and I said, ‘How we feeling?’ And he said, ‘He’s gonna try to see if he can go.'”
Head coach Andy Reid had no clue if Kelce would come back in the game in the second half.
“It wasn’t clear until he came out and told me,” Reid said.
At the start of the third quarter, the 34-year-old gave his word to his head coach that he would try to help get his team to a win.
“He said, ‘Just give me a minute, I’m gonna get this thing right.’ He did a bunch of drills on his own there, just working with it. And our training staff was working with him during halftime, and Rick does a great job.”
The Chiefs received the ball first in the second half, and Kelce did not play a single play on the first drive that the Chiefs scored a touchdown and took a 20-13 lead on.
Rookie wide receiver Rashee Rice caught an eight-yard touchdown pass on a slant.
On several occasions, CBS play-by-play Jim Nantz noted that Kelce attempted to sub in the game but was pulled back by coaches. It was Just another instance of how competitive the proud Cleveland Heights, Ohio native is.
“Yeah, I saw him. I saw on the sideline on that first drive,” Mahomes said. The superstar QB recalled his ankle injury in last season’s AFC Divisional playoff game.
“It’s kind of the role reversal was like me in the playoffs. I was just standing there on the sidelines trying to get back in.”
Kelce’s presence was pivotal, and all of his best qualities showed up when he returned to the field and made five catches on the next drive, including the final catch that was for a touchdown.
On the 11-play drive, Kelce’s role was felt in almost every play.
The pinnacle of his lore could be when he high points a ball over the arm of safety Josh Metellus that was reviewed as a fumble but ruled a catch.
Another key play on the drive was in the red zone. On third and eight on the 15-yard line, the Chiefs had Kelce sit on the left sideline for a screen while receiver Kadarius Toney ran a go route into the endzone.
The Vikings covered the play well, and Mahomes was flushed out of the pocket. As it looks like Mahomes is going to scramble, something he’s done well this season, he stopped right before the line of scrimmage and found Kelce running toward him wide-open. Kelce caught the pass and ran to the four-yard line for a first down.
It’s the typical Kelce-Mahomes chemistry that has been the guiding force of the KC dynasty.
“I pumped, and the corner fell off, and I stepped up in the pocket,” Mahomes said, “Travis is supposed to be on the sideline, and luckily he was running across the field.
“I have those moments where I’m like, ‘I’m about to get crushed.’ And then I look over, and at 87 is just running free. So he’s been with me a long time and knows how to get himself up and whenever he gets an opportunity.”
On the final play of the drive, Kelce was wide open for the TD.
Kelce didn’t make a catch the rest of the game but finished the game as the Chiefs’ leading receiver with 10 catches and 67 yards to go along with his TD. Reports said he had been diagnosed with a low ankle sprain and played through it.
For the man whose dating life has thrust him into the international spotlight, this warrior-like performance showed new football fans what Travis, Kelce the football player, is all about.
“A dog,” cornerback L’Jarius Sneed said about his teammate’s performance. “He out there on one leg.”
“He played how Travis plays,” defensive tackle Chris Jones said. “He battled through an injury. He was able to come back, show resilience. Glad that he was able to, you know, come back on the field and join us.
“He did what Travis does.”