February 22, 2024

2024 Super Bowl: Inside Travis Kelce’s playoff transformation; Chiefs TE clears any doubts from regular season


There was plenty of doubt surrounding Travis Kelce and the Kansas City Chiefs throughout the regular season. It’s only fitting that once Kelce turned his game up another level in the postseason, so, too, did the Chiefs.  

The veteran tight end’s success in the postseason correlates to the Chiefs and their constant deep playoff runs. Patrick Mahomes has a track record of upping his game in the postseason, but so does Kelce. That can’t be a coincidence. 

Even in a postseason where Kelce has been dominant (23 catches, 262 yards, three touchdowns), there were legitimate concerns whether the future Hall of Fame tight end could get back to this level. Kelce had his fewest receiving yards in a season (974) since 2015, the first season which he didn’t get 1,000 yards in eight years. He also averaged 65.6 receiving yards per game, the fewest he’s had in a regular season since 2015 (54.7). 

There were questions concerning Kelce’s age (34) and his off-the-field relationship (Taylor Swift). Did Kelce lose a step heading into his mid-30s? Was his life becoming a distraction as he was pursuing greatness? Were the Chiefs being affected by all the off-field stuff with Kelce, leading to a No. 3 seed in the AFC and the loss to the Las Vegas Raiders on Christmas Day? 

All those questions were settled in the postseason, as the Chiefs won two games on the road to get back to the Super Bowl. Kelce played an integral role with dominant postseason games, which is the norm for a player of his caliber.

There was no drop-off with Kelce in 2023, just a continuation of the dominant player he’s always been. Was Kelce holding back during the regular season to get ready for the postseason, or is this just the Travis Kelce who finds a way to produce in January and February?

“People don’t even see it at practice,” Mahomes said this week, via a Chiefs transcript. “The energy he has — he wants to take every single rep. We have to get him out of practice just to give him a rest, he wants to be out there for every single play. 

“I think that mindset, when you see the Hall of Fame tight end and he wants to be the one working the hardest it raises everybody’s standard. It raises the standard of how you practice. It a raises the standards of how you prepare because you know that guy that has done it at the top level wants to continue to do it every single week, every single day. 

“At the same time, he has a great time doing it.”

Kelce just knows how to take his game to another level for the playoffs, evidenced by his career numbers between the regular season and postseason. 

Regular Season

5.7

71.2

0.47

Postseason

7.4

86.2

0.90

Kelce averaged just 6.2 catches per game and 65.6 receiving yards per game, with 0.33 touchdowns per game this regular season. In the postseason, Kelce’s numbers improved to 7.7 catches per game, 87.3 receiving yards per game and 1.0 touchdowns per game: Better numbers across the board in all three categories, just like in other postseasons in years past. Again, the standard instead of the outlier. 

Kelce is the only player in NFL history with five postseasons recording three-plus touchdowns, accomplishing the feat in five consecutive years (also the only player to do this). He has the most catches in NFL playoff history (156), the second-most receiving yards in NFL playoff history (1,810) and the second-most receiving touchdowns (19) — trailing only Jerry Rice in those two categories (Rice has 2,245 receiving yards and 22 touchdowns in his postseason career). 

Rice has the most postseasons accumulating 200-plus receiving yards (six), but Kelce is right behind him (five). They are the only two players to accomplish the feat. Kelce is the only player in NFL playoff history with four postseasons with 20-plus receptions (Rice has never accomplished that), and he’s accomplished that feat in consecutive seasons as well. 

No player in NFL history has ever had more catches (104) and receiving yards (1,178) in a span of four consecutive postseasons than Kelce. Of course, this is also the same player who had seven consecutive seasons of 1,000 receiving yards (most for a tight end in NFL history) until this year, and is the only tight end with multiple 100-reception seasons in NFL history (Kelce has three of them). 

Kelce is fourth amongst his position in career receptions (907) and receiving yards (11,328), and certainly will pass Antonio Gates for third next year. Even with the drop-off in regular-season performance this year, Kelce was still the same dominant player. 

The Chiefs had their worst crop of wide receivers this season, forcing Kelce to consistently face defenses as the No. 1 pass-catching target throughout the year. Rookie Rashee Rice had not emerged yet and JuJu Smith-Schuster wasn’t available in the slot (signed with the New England Patriots) as an added security blanket for Mahomes. 

Come the postseason, Rice became the No. 1 wide receiver and his targets per game went from 6.4 to 8.3. Kelce’s targets per game went from 8.1 to 9.0. Mahomes targeted his most trusted pass catchers in the playoffs and they performed as a result, giving the Chiefs offense enough to beat elite defenses like the Buffalo Bills and Baltimore Ravens on the road. 

Kelce has always been the same dominant player in the postseason. This time, the regular-season numbers were down and questions emerged because of what was going on around the Hall of Fame tight end. 

This postseason proved Kelce just raises his game to the next level, just like Mahomes. 





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