Chiefs tight end Travis Kelce's rising star keeps climbing
KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) By just about any measure, Chiefs tight end Travis Kelce had as good of an offseason as anyone.
It began when he reached a five-year, $46 million contract extension that included $20 million in guarantees - a deal signed while he was in Hawaii, no less. It continued with the filming of a reality TV show in which 50 women tried to impress the 27-year-old bachelor enough to win his love.
His season is turning out to be pretty good, too.
Kelce had eight catches for a career-best 140 yards in Sunday's win over Atlanta, which allowed Kansas City to remain a game behind Oakland in the AFC West. It was the former third-round pick's third straight 100-yard receiving effort, one shy of the franchise record set by Tony Gonzalez in 2000. He'll have a chance to match it in a pivotal Thursday night showdown with the Raiders .
''The guy's so unique. One of the most unique tight ends in the NFL,'' Chiefs quarterback Alex Smith said. ''I think of what he can do - he has so many different strengths.''
Most of them are in the passing game, where his hands and ability to run essentially turns him into an extra wide receiver. That has proven to be critical the past few weeks while Jeremy Maclin, the Chiefs' top wide receiver, has been dealing with a lingering groin injury.
His big-play ability was evident right from the start in Atlanta, when Kelce hauled in back-to-back catches of 21 and 35 yards to help the Chiefs answer the Falcons' opening-drive touchdown.
''For a big guy to have the kind of vision he does, you saw it on the opening drive,'' Smith said. ''The first catch, to go up and get that in traffic, and then he beats the safety one-on-one (one the next catch) to get us down to the goal line. Obviously, he's a heck of a player.''
He even got props from the safety he beat on that play, Keanu Neal.
''He's a technician, smart with his routes, and he knows how to play the game,'' Neal said after the game. ''He's a great route-runner and can play ball. That's why he's a Pro Bowler.''
It's also why the Chiefs have begun to target him more often.
He was only targeted three times apiece in back-to-back games against Oakland and New Orleans earlier this season, catching five passes for 57 yards combined. But he has been targeted at least eight times each of the past three weeks, including 15 targets in his 101-yard effort two weeks ago in Denver.
The result has been 23 catches for 349 yards over the past three games .
''Normally in big games, your good players show up,'' Chiefs coach Andy Reid said. ''He's always going to be a part of our game plan. We'd be foolish not to make him a part. So then you have to kind of overcome the other teams' plan and try to do something else if they double him. We've moved him all over the place, so we're lucky he can do that.''
Indeed, Kelce is comfortable lining up in the traditional tight end position at the end of the line, but he's just as relaxed lining up in the slot or even wide in formations.
''The most impressive thing to me is in the pass game, how he matches up on different people,'' Falcons coach Dan Quinn said. ''You have coverage on him, you think you have the right leverage and then he can stick a foot in the ground and change directions. That's really hard for a big guy to do.''
Perhaps most impressive is that Kelce has managed to maintain his focus and drive, despite the flashy new contract, all those swooning women and his burgeoning superstardom. He is rarely in the locker room when reporters are around, and he tends to deflect questions that don't have anything to do with football.
Good luck trying to get him to talk about his show, ''Catching Kelce.''
Which is perfectly fine with the Chiefs. They just want him to keep catching passes.
Notes: WR Jeremy Maclin, who has missed four games with a groin injury, practiced Tuesday and could be available. ''I know he's feeling better,'' ''Reid said. ''We're optimistic.'' ... The forecast for Thursday night calls for temperatures in the teens with a wind chill that could approach single digits. ''It's going to be freezing, most definitely,'' said WR Tyreek Hill, a Florida native. ''I've never played in anything like this.''
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