INGLEWOOD, Calif. – Patrick Mahomes was only half-kidding on Sunday night as he explained his thinking when making split-second decisions under pressure.
“I joke about it during the week,” the Kansas City Chiefs star said after a 30-27 victory against the Los Angeles Chargers was punctuated by three touchdown tosses to Travis Kelce. “I just go through the reads unless Kelce is manned up and I throw him the ball. That’s kind of my mindset.”
Just like the AFC West showdown last year at SoFi Stadium, Mahomes and Kelce made a mockery of the Chargers’ coverage in crunch time. In the final minute, Kelce ran a drag route across the field that allowed him to beat the man-on-man coverage from Derwin James – aided by a pick, the all-pro safety contended – for a 17-yard touchdown with 31 seconds left.
“I’m not joking at all,” Mahomes clarified. “If he’s man-to-man, I’m going to give him a chance. He’s going to win most of them.”
The Chargers used James extensively to shadow Kelce and it nearly worked on a night when the Chiefs were without two receivers (Mecole Hardman and JuJu Smith-Schuster) and lost a key running back (Clyde Edwards-Helaire) due to injuries.
Follow every game: Live NFL Scores
WEEK 11 WINNERS, LOSERS:Cowboys look Super in dismantling of Vikings
32 THINGS WE LEARNED:Special teams can be pretty special
NEVER MISS A SNAP: Sign up for our NFL newsletter for exclusive content
For much of the game, James had the upper hand, which forced Mahomes to throw to other, less proven targets if he wasn’t running for his life to avoid L.A.’s rush.
Yet Kelce, who finished with six catches and 115 yards – and set an NFL record for tight ends with his 33rd career 100-yard game – again demonstrated why he is the one weapon that Mahomes can’t do without. He was the ultimate security blanket. Especially when it mattered most.
“We didn’t have our full arsenal of weapons,” Kelce said. “Knowing that it was going to be an opportunity, I personally was ready for the matchup. I knew they were going to play a lot of man-to-man coverage and I knew that Pat was going to be looking for me. … There was a lot of understanding what they were trying to do to stop us.”
James wasn’t covering Kelce’s on his first two TDs on Sunday – a 4-yard score early in the second quarter off a smoke screen and a 32-yard catch-and-run early in the fourth quarter that exposed faulty tackling. The screen pass was enabled by fellow tight ends Noah Gray and Jody Fortson, who cleared a path on the edge. The design and execution of the play allowed Kelce to literally dance into the end zone – he mimicked Chargers Hall of Famer LaDanian Tomlinson as he struck a pose and high-stepped, finishing it with LT’s signature finger roll. On the next TD, Kelce took a short slant pattern and weaved a path to the end zone as a couple of defenders with bad angles missed tackles.
On the game-winning score, as was the case on the entire 6-play, 75-yard drive, the Chargers banked on their best defensive back as James shadowed Kelce exclusively.
“He’s one of the best in the league,” Kelce said. “He got the better of me the majority of the game. It’s one of those things where you 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 stuff. So anything vertical, anything to the outside, he was locking me up pretty good. Coach (Andy) Reid saw that and called a play where I could just get across the field and try to beat him with my 33 (-year-old) legs.”
Done. Kelce and Mahomes added another installment to their collection of clutch moments.
“I think what’s special about him is he just competes,” Mahomes said. “At the end of the day, he’s going to keep fighting until the very end. When you see that, not only is that impressive for him, it gets the other guys going.”
Including the quarterback who knows exactly where to look.
Story Credit: usatoday.com