Much of the Kansas City Chiefs' season has been marked by a stunningly sputtering offense.
On Thursday night amid a classic back-and-forth game with the AFC West-rival Los Angeles Chargers, though, Patrick Mahomes and Travis Kelce connected in prime fashion, looking every bit the combination that's led the Chiefs to AFC titles the last two autumns.
The Mahomes-Kelce connection closed the show on Thursday Night Football when Kelce caught a ball over the middle and then sprinted and weaved his way past a host of would-be Chargers tacklers to give Kansas City a 34-28 walk-off win in overtime against Los Angeles.
"That was a special moment, just in general," Mahomes said of Kelce's game-winning touchdown. "I don't think I've ever been part of a walk-off touchdown or anything like that. To be in that moment, find him underneath, and him making such a dynamic play. He cut back, ran by people. You would think he's old, he can't run by people, but he's still running by people. And he got in the end zone. It was just a special moment."
On the strength of Kelce's clutch score, the Chiefs won their seventh in a row to improve to 10-4 and take a two-game lead in the AFC West over the Bolts (8-6).
Heading into the game, however, Kelce had averaged 4.7 catches for 57 yards per game over the Chiefs' six-game winning streak and had just one touchdown in that span. Things were far different on Thursday night in Southern California for the 32-year-old, as he racked up 10 receptions for 191 yards and two touchdowns -- all season highs.
"For the old man Kelce, you know everybody's talking about him losing a step or being off his game, here he steps up and, he looked pretty fast to me," Chiefs head coach Andy Reid said.
Kelce, who now has 83 receptions for 1,066 yards and seven touchdowns, is somewhat emblematic of the Chiefs, as success is being had in 2021, just not in the dazzling fashion that fans and pundits have grown accustomed to. Nonetheless, Kelce and Mahomes, who had 410 yards and three touchdowns, have Kansas City in prime position to lock up a sixth straight division crown following Thursday's dramatic victory. It's a win that came to be following a seesaw affair in which Mahomes looked to be in vintage form late after struggling early.
He threw two fourth-quarter touchdowns, including a 7-yarder to Kelce with 1:16 remaining in regulation that sent the game into OT.
"Guys just gotta be great," Kelce told NFL Network's Michael Irvin after the game. "We had all the momentum going into that last drive. Our defense played their tails off to help us get that win. I'm so proud of these guys, man. Dealing with adversity. One-five, with the world on his shoulders, baby, he showed up. He showed up. I'm sick of all the haters, man, one-five's the real deal. And he showed it yet again tonight."
No. 15 was special for the Chiefs when they needed him, adding a little history to the evening, as well. It was Mahomes' seventh career game with 400 or more passing yards and three or more touchdowns, breaking a tie with Hall of Famer Dan Marino for the most such games in a player's first five seasons, per NFL Research.
Kelce, meanwhile, eclipsed 1,000 yards for the sixth straight season, whereas no other tight end has even reached five. In Week 16 against the visiting Pittsburgh Steelers, Kelce (8,947 yards) needs just two yards to pass Jason Witten (8,948) for the most receiving yards by a tight end in his first 10 NFL seasons.
The Chiefs have struggled on offense in comparison to the past three seasons, but they're still winning and putting up impressive numbers. On Thursday, they struggled for much of the game until the Mahomes-Kelce combo reignited them.
Ultimately, the statistics don't matter as long as the wins are still coming. It's an outlook Mahomes says Kelce has embraced. On this night, both were for the taking, though.
"I think what I've seen of Travis over the last few years is the maturity to know that it's not about the numbers, it's about winning football games," Mahomes said. "I think this year has been big for him, where he hasn't put up the same numbers, but his mentality has never changed. He's been a leader on this team. He's more happy for anyone other than himself. When his number gets called he goes out there makes plays in big moments. That what special players do and he's a special player and I'm glad he's on my team."
Mahomes and Kelce are synonymous with the team that vaulted into the AFC's No. 1 spot to lead off Week 15. Thursday served as a reminder of just how talented they can be when they're on their game.
"What a game," Reid said as he stepped up the podium.
What a game, indeed. And it came to a close with another highlight-reel score from Mahomes to Kelce.