Chiefs tight end Travis Kelce had this game circled.
Not that the Cincinnati Bengals held any special meaning, but Kelce played his college ball a few miles away from Paul Brown Stadium at the University of Cincinnati. He came up with 40 tickets for family and friends from the area and his hometown of Cleveland Heights, Ohio.
Kelce wished he had delivered a better performance in the Chiefs’ 36-21 loss.
He caught five passes for 49 yards, but his fumble after a reception late in the third quarter was recovered by the Bengals and returned to at the 5.
Two snaps later, running back Jeremy Hill scored, and a two-point conversion gave Cincinnati at 29-15 lead.
The fumble call survived a replay review. The situation was similar to a play in Arizona last season, when Kelce lost a fumble that proved big in a loss to the Cardinals.
“I’ve got to hold onto the ball,” Kelce said. “That’s all I have to say about that.”
The play-call was conservative and occurred at the end of what loomed as a promising moment for the Chiefs.
They trailed 21-15 and had just forced a Bengals’ punt. On first down from the 25, running back Jamaal Charles rushed for 12 yards.
But an intentional grounding penalty against quarterback Alex Smith, and a sack that cost the Chiefs another 10 yards, forced the Chiefs into a third-and-30 situation from the 17.
Smith’s short pass to Kelce gained 11, well short of the first down. The ball was jarred loose by end Michael Johnson and recovered by safety Reggie Nelson, who rumbled 25 yards to the 5.
The Chiefs picked a bad time for their worst offensive sequence of the day.
They never reached the end zone, and Cairo Santos joined a small circle of kickers in NFL history who have booted at least seven field goals in a game.
Still, when the Chiefs started the possession, they trailed by just six and had accumulated more first downs and time of possession than the Bengals, and were about equal in total yards.
“But at the end of the day, every single time we got past the 50,we stopped moving the ball or we were moving backwards,” Kelce said. “You can’t do that to yourself. And you can’t do that to your defense. They had just made a big stop, got the ball back for us.”
Several fans stood outside the stadium before the game wearing Kelce’s No. 87 Chiefs jersey, and some wore Cincinnati Bearcats jerseys. Kelce was a standout there as a college senior. He also lined up at quarterback in the wildcat formation after playing the position in high school.
The Chiefs made Kelce their third-round draft selection in 2013 and he was their leading receiver in 2014 with 67 receptions.
He got off to a fast start this year with a pair of touchdown receptions against the Houston Texans in the opener, but he hasn’t found the end zone since then.
The Chiefs have lost three straight since then and Sunday might have been the most disappointing of all — especially to Kelce, playing before so many familiar faces.
“We have a good offense,” Kelce said. “But you can’t do the things we did today and win.”