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Travis Kelce on 'resilient' Chiefs ahead of AFC title game: 'You saw the struggles, you saw the growth'

Kansas City is days away from making its sixth consecutive AFC Championship Game appearance.

Travis Kelce has been there for them all, and perhaps none has required such a grind -- something he believes makes the latest iteration of the Chiefs stand out.

"We're resilient," Kelce said Friday, per the team transcript. "We grew together. You saw the struggles, you saw the growth. I think that's what make us special, but you just come into that locker room, you'll see the chemistry. You'll see how much we want it for the guy next to us, and that's when you know you have a real good team."

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Far from the world beaters of years past, when K.C. twice finished first in the NFL in scoring and thrice finished first in yards during Patrick Mahomes' first five years as a starter, the Chiefs ranked 15th in points and ninth in yards during the 2023 regular season.

The Chiefs led the league with 44 drops, saw a six-game winning streak end against the Raiders and had a successful sixteen-game stretch snapped against the Broncos while losing their most games (six) and finishing with their worst seeding (third) of the Mahomes era.

Sunday will mark the first conference title game of six straight to take place away from Arrowhead Stadium.

Yet these Chiefs once again stand a game away from the Super Bowl, now featuring one of their best defenses in years and an offense that's seemingly saved its best for the postseason.

Resilience has bled over from a team necessity to a component of Kelce's individual efforts, as well.

The 34-year-old reached his ninth Pro Bowl and eclipsed 90 receptions for a sixth straight year. He had one of the best seasons of any tight end across the league, but it still fell short of the astronomically high bar he's established.

He faded down the stretch and missed markers he's previously cruised past with ease, leading some to question if he's lost a step.

Kelce finished with 984 receiving yards, his first time missing the 1,000-yard mark since 2015. Granted, he missed two contests, but his 10.6 yards per reception was the first time in his career -- excluding his zero-catch rookie campaign -- that he fell below 12.2.

He also contributed to the drop problem with seven, and during a 10-game stretch from Oct. 29 through the team's wild-card game caught only one touchdown.

Just like the rest of the offense, though, he's been resurgent of late. Despite being held out of the end zone, Kelce went for 71 yards on seven receptions in Kansas City's 26-7 win over the Miami Dolphins on Super Wild Card Weekend.

He took two of his five receptions for 75 yards to pay dirt in the Divisional Round, both of which were crucial in a 27-24 victory against the Buffalo Bills. In doing so, he joined with Mahomes to pass Tom Brady and Rob Gronkowski for the most playoff TDs by a QB-receiver combination in NFL history (16). He's also now four postseason touchdown grabs away from tying the great Jerry Rice.

"Yeah, I mean, it's a challenge to find new ways to have success," Kelce said of questions regarding what he has left in the tank. "I think that's what this year has brought for me is that obstacle and figuring out how I can get the best out of myself, figure out how I can get the best out of my teammates. All at the same time being a great leader bringing that energy, showing for the young guys the type of determined mindset you have to have week in (and) week out. You know what, I love that challenge."

The next challenge ahead will be vanquishing the Baltimore Ravens to turn a sixth straight AFC title game trip into his fourth Super Bowl berth since 2018, and perhaps the most rewarding yet.

"I'm not thinking about a single one I already accomplished," Kelce said. "I'm thinking about this one on Sunday, and I want it more than I've ever wanted one in my life."

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