Late in the second quarter of the Chiefs’ 41-39 preseason win over the Bengals on Thursday at Arrowhead, Jamaal Charles walked up to Travis Kelce and offered some advice.
“He said, ‘If you get in the end zone, you’ve got to him ‘em with a dance,’” Kelce recalled with a grin.
And moments later, after Kelce scored on a breathtaking 69-yard touchdown in which the 6-foot-5, 260-pound tight end sprinted through four defensive backs to the end zone, that’s exactly what he did.
“I asked him what he wanted me to hit them with, and he said something from Houston,” Kelce said. “So I hit them with the nae nae.”
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The nae nae, as you might have imagined, is a popular dance in South — though its origin is in Atlanta, not Texas, where Charles is from.
But no matter. The truth is, given everything Kelce has been through over the past year — as injuries prevented the fleet-footed former Cincinnati Bearcat from making a significant contribution as a rookie — it’s hard to blame him for having a celebratory dance of some sort on tap for a big play.
“It was kind of surprising to me that I could still get out on people,” Kelce said. “I felt the dogs chasing me so I had to get up out of there.”
Kelce, whom the Chiefs took in the third round of the 2013 NFL Draft, wowed during offseason workouts last year and was also impressive in training camp. He caught two passes for 28 yards in the preseason before a bone bruise in his knee sidelined him for a significant portion of camp. He appeared briefly in one regular-season game but was put on injured reserve in October after a microfracture procedure.
“It was the worst, literally,” Kelce said. “I mean, just knowing that I finally made it to where I wanted to be in life and still not be able to get out there, I mean, it hurt pretty bad.”
The Chiefs certainly missed him. Starter Anthony Fasano missed seven games because of injury, and while Sean McGrath proved to be serviceable, the Chiefs’ tight ends caught only 54 passes for 537 yards, well below the averages of 72 catches and 855 yards Chiefs coach Andy Reid’s tight ends in Philadelphia posted from 2009 to 2012.
Kelce spent the offseason rehabbing and was a limited participant during organized team activities in June, but has managed to stay healthy for the majority of training camp.
But while he had been running free and easy, he hadn’t shown the same type of explosiveness he had last year — at least until Thursday.
“Heck, I haven’t used those wheels like that since college,” Kelce said.
Kelce started the play matched up in the slot against Cincinnati’s rookie cornerback Lavelle Westbrooks. He ran right up the seam, where quarterback Chase Daniel found him wide open about 17 yards downfield.
Kelce took care of the rest, as he sprinted through the Bengals’ secondary for the touchdown.
“I’ve seen his speed and I think his sort of endorphins kicked in a little bit when he was so open and saw nothing ahead of him except fans,” Daniel said. “I don’t think it was physically possible to catch him right there.”
Even coach Andy Reid noted how explosive Kelce looked on the play, and how well he played, in general.
“It was great to have him back out there,” Reid said. “He had quite a few snaps, he had a little speed at the end. Heck, he was pulling away from secondary players … and he did some in-line blocking, which I thought he did a really good job of.”
Kelce’s teammates were also happy to see all of his hard work pay off.
“I think everybody was extremely happy for Travis,” quarterback Alex Smith said. “He’s been through a lot. Obviously, it’s been a long time since he’s seen action. But I think everybody can verify, the guy never leaves the facility. This offseason, OTAs, training camp, he’s been there rehabbing, putting in extensive hours, trying to get healthy.”
Thursday’s game, in which he finished with two catches for 73 yards and one impressive touchdown, is the first step toward what Kelce hopes is a bounce-back season. And it was a preseason game, after all, so he is keeping it in perspective.
“It was fun, but at the same time this was still a practice,” Kelce said. “I’m itching to get out there in the regular season and show what I’ve got there.”