The Chiefs return to the Super Bowl after defeating the Ravens in the AFC Championship
We're now officially in dynasty territory as the Kansas City Chiefs return to the Super Bowl for the fourth time in five years and we're telling you how they can win back-to-back.
BALTIMORE – Kansas City Chiefs tight end Travis Kelce has garnered a lot of attention in the past year – as a familiar face in television commercials, as a cheeky co-host of America's most popular podcast and, oh yeah, as a friend of one of the most famous people on the earth.
Sunday afternoon, however, was about Kelce, the football player. It was a reminder that behind the celebrity headlines and podcast jokes, he still remains one of the most dominant tight ends of his era.
After a lackluster regular season by his standards, Kelce broke through in the Chiefs' 17-10 win over Baltimore on Sunday, finishing with 11 catches for 116 yards and a touchdown. Yes, his post-game on-field kiss with girlfriend Taylor Swift might have caused a stir on social media. But before that, it was mostly about the catches he made in crucial situations, including a twisting touchdown grab that put the Chiefs on the field — and the fact that he also broke one of Jerry Rice's postseason records along the way.
Widely considered the greatest wide receiver of all time, Rice caught 151 passes in 29 playoff games during his career. Kelce surpassed that mark in the first half of just his 21st postseason appearance.
“Greetings to Jerry Rice, baby,” Kelce said in a brief interview on CBS after the game. “The Chiefs are still the Chiefs.”
He then quoted the Beastie Boys: “You gotta fight… for your right… to party!”
Kelce was otherwise unavailable to speak with reporters after the game.
It feels strange and perhaps even a little unfair to describe Sunday as a classic performance from the four-time All-Pro tight end who has now helped the Chiefs to their fourth Super Bowl appearance in five years. But in many ways, that's exactly what it was – from the sprawling fourth-down catch to extend a drive, to the relentless jaw attacks on Ravens defenders, to the touchdown catch in which he contorted his body to catch a pass snatching a ball that was thrown low and thrown away by him to keep the defender out of the game.
In a game where early momentum proved crucial, Kelce led all receivers with nine catches in the first half, including the scoring 19-yarder. He faded into the background in the second half as the Chiefs' defense continued to rattle Baltimore Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson and ultimately wiped out the game.
“He’s a special player, man,” quarterback Patrick Mahomes said. “I always say it, but when the lights get brighter he plays better. That’s the true mark of a champion and that’s who he is.”
Sunday's game wasn't quite Kelce's best game of the season – that would have been his I2 catch, 179-yard performance against the Los Angeles Chargers – but it was close. And it wasn't his most dominant playoff performance, but it was comparable. He already holds the postseason record for most tight end catches in a single game with 14.
“(Kelce) a future Hall of Famer,” Ravens nose tackle Michael Pierce said. “He knows where he needs to be and they were exactly right.”
For a Chiefs team that lost four of six games in a row during the regular season and entered the playoffs as a No. 3 seed rather than its usual No. 1 seed, Sunday's game marked a return to normalcy. The same goes for Kelce.
Since the Chiefs won the Super Bowl last year, Kelce has gone from a football celebrity to a regular old celebrity. He hosted an episode of NBC's “Saturday Night Live” in March and saw a rapid increase in viewership for his podcast “New Heights.” In the fall, rumors began to surface about his relationship with Swift. And according to the Wall Street Journal, he dominates TV commercials at NFL games like no other player – appearing in 375 commercials as of December 11th. That's 34 more than the Chiefs' other undisputed star, quarterback Patrick Mahomes.
But as his name recognition increased, Kelce's performance on the field declined. He finished the regular season with 93 catches for 984 yards, his fewest since 2015. And he caught just five touchdown passes — a great season by many tight ends' standards, but not his own.
However, Kelce has always pushed back against the idea that his on-field performances have been affected by all the hype surrounding it.
“You hear in the media all year long: If we don't have success, maybe we'll throw it out there that I wasn't focused or that the team wasn't focused on certain things,” Kelce told reporters this week. “When you’re in this building, you know exactly what’s going on.”
It's no coincidence that the Chiefs' offensive resurgence in the playoffs coincided with Kelce's. He finished with seven catches for 71 yards in the win over the Miami Dolphins in the wild-card round and then accounted for two of the Chiefs' three touchdowns in the 27-24 win over the Buffalo Bills the following week.
Chiefs head coach Andy Reid said he noticed a change in Kelce's demeanor in the postseason and believes Kelce benefited from the break in the team's regular-season finale.
“Listen, Travis is always excited. “He’s always energetic,” Reid said. “But with the playoffs, he's even more fired up. “I never worry about him being ready to go. He’s always there and brings those emotions to the guys.”
That emotion was clearly felt on the field after the game when a reporter captured video of him walking with his arm around Swift, taking in the moment. He found his brother Jason, the All-Pro center for the Philadelphia Eagles, with whom Travis co-hosts the podcast.
“Quit that mother (expletive),” Jason Kelce told him.
“How about this,” Travis Kelce replied. “….I love that (expletive), man.”