The moment was a classic destined to be replayed over and over for years to come. With 1:25 left in a typical, taut game between the Kansas City Chiefs and Buffalo Bills, tight end Travis Kelce hauled in a 25-yard pass from Patrick Mahomes, turned and fired a 24-yard spiral to wide receiver Kadarius Toney for a touchdown that gave Kansas City the lead.
Except it didn’t. Instead, it now ranks among the greatest NFL plays that never happened because Toney had lined up in the neutral zone and was flagged for being offsides, a call that Mahomes said robbed Kelce of a “legendary moment” in his Hall of Fame career.
In his first public comments on the play, Kelce and his brother, Philadelphia Eagles center Jason Kelce, broke down the play on their “New Heights” podcast, with Travis Kelce admitting he’d never thrown a lateral that far. The former high school quarterback just threw it “on the spot,” he admitted.
“Honestly, man — dude, it was such a bang bang — like, I caught it, turned upfield, knew it was man coverage, saw the single high safety coming down, knew I had broken the contain angle of the guy chasing me,” he said. “When I made the safety that was coming down to try and tackle — when I broke his angle, I knew it was two-on-one.
“He was the only guy left. He’s the only guy on that side of the field. I knew KT was over there from the route he ran, saw him out of the corner of my eye in a lateral position, in a position where I knew if I could get him the ball. I knew he had space to score a touchdown.”
Kelce has joked about wanting to release his inner quarterback during games and did so in an October game in which he lateraled to tight end Noah Gray. He may want more laterals and hook-and-ladder plays added to the playbook but he has been rebuffed by Coach Andy Reid, quoting his coach in a “New Heights” episode in October as saying, “I’m not doing that.”
Toney’s touchdown was quickly nullified by the flag Sunday, not that Kelce intended to approach Reid after the play.
“I didn’t talk to Coach Reid,” he told his brother. “Dude, in retrospect, could you imagine if that [pass] got tipped [and intercepted]? ‘No, no, no, no, no, nonononononono.’ I could see Coach Reid in my head [gesturing with his finger], ‘Just come here.’”
For another reason beyond his coach’s reaction, the play came awfully close to being a disaster.
“When it left my hand, I thought it got tipped,” Kelce said. “It was close. It was extremely close, so you probably won’t see me doing that every single game. It was a little too close for comfort.”
Toney came under fire for not checking with the officials about his position on the field, but Kelce defended him.
“I went up to KT today and I told him, ‘Man, we had that place f—ing rockin’.’ Hoo-hoo, hoo-hoo. Arrowhead was on fire after that play,” Kelce said. “I was like, ‘Hey, man, we’re just gonna have to do it again, big dog.’”
From Kelce’s perspective Toney lined up no differently than he had throughout the game, never drawing a flag or an official’s warning to coaches to be relayed to him.
“I love KT. If we get the opportunity again, I’m going to throw that s— right into his chest again and hopefully it gets there,” Kelce said. “He’s one of the best players we’ve got with the ball in his hands. You turn on the film, you watch what he does when the ball is in his hands. You can’t tell me you don’t want that guy on your team. Everybody hatin’ on KT right now, you can f—ing miss me with it. I’m trustin’ in ‘one nine’ every time he’s out there on the field.”