With a division title in their sights, the Kansas City Chiefs will be without one of their premier pass-catchers on Sunday afternoon.
Pro Bowl tight end Travis Kelce did not clear COVID-19 protocols ahead of K.C.'s game against the Pittsburgh Steelers and will not play, NFL Network Insider Ian Rapoport reported, per a source. The team officially ruled him out later Sunday, along with linebacker Nick Bolton and offensive lineman Lucas Niang.
The Chiefs had preemptively activated Kelce off of the reserve/COVID-19 list Saturday with hopes that he would test out of protocols. He did not.
K.C. will also be without QBs coach Mike Kafka, running backs coach Greg Lewis and assistant O-line coach Corey Matthaei, all of whom remain in COVID protocols.
Kelce was expected to follow the path of Tyreek Hill back to the roster for game time. Hill was placed on the reserve/COVID-19 list Tuesday before clearing protocols and being activated Saturday. Placed on the COVID list on Monday, Kelce, the reigning Offensive Player of the Week, will now miss K.C.'s Week 16 clash, his first missed game of the season.
The tight end is not alone in sitting out the Chiefs' meeting with the visiting Steelers. Kansas City is without both kicker Harrison Butker and punter Tommy Townsend; Elliott Fry and Johnny Townsend, Tommy's brother, are filling in in those respective roles. Blake Bell, who was also sidelined this week with COVID, figures to take Kelce's snaps at tight end.
Kelce's loss is a big one for Patrick Mahomes and Co. The TE is coming off a career-best performance in Week 15, when he caught a season-high 10 passes for 191 yards and two scores, including the game-winner in overtime. On the season, Kelce has 1,066 receiving yards and seven receiving TDs on 83 receptions, all second on the team behind Hill.
The Chiefs (10-4) can clinch the AFC West title with a win over Pittsburgh (7-6-1) plus a Los Angeles Chargers loss or tie. K.C. can also secure a playoff berth simply with a win. But it'll have to do so without Kelce.