Travis Kelce stood in front of his locker Sunday, the cameras and microphones in his face. His answers were short, his facial expression stern and unfeeling. He was clearly frustrated.
The Chiefs had just lost to the Cardinals, 17-14, which burned Kelce up enough. But the way they lost, at the end of frustrating week, certainly did not help.
Kelce, in some ways, felt responsible. Trailing by three, the Chiefs had been driving down the field seeking a go-ahead score late in the fourth quarter, when Kelce’ made a 19-yard catch and run that seemed to give the Chiefs the ball at the Cardinals’ 22-yard line with 5:23 left.
Only, it didn’t. The ball came loose near the end of the run, and even the Cardinals nearby didn’t react like it was a fumble, Arizona coach Bruce Arians tossed the red challenge flag anyway.
Kelce thought it was crazy.
“I thought I regained control of the ball,” Kelce said.
So imagine his dismay — actually, the word he used was “shock” — when referee Craig Wrolstad ruled it a fumble, and awarded Arizona the ball.
“The tight end caught the ball, took a number of steps, got hit as he was going to the ground before any part of his body was on the ground, the ball came loose,” Wrolstad said to a pool reporter. “The ball remained loose. He tried to get it, the other guy tried to get it, but the ball continued to be loose and rolled to a stop, at which time a player 5 yards away picked up the ball. So he actually had a clear recovery.”
Arians decided to challenge the play mere seconds before the Chiefs got off their next offensive play, which would have prevented any challenges.
“When we looked at it in replay, we saw that indeed the ball had come loose, he was not down by contact and then if there is a clear recovery, we can revere it and give the ball to the defense. And that’s what happened.”
Let’s just say the Chiefs did not agree with that decision.
“Yeah, well, I can’t comment on the officials,” Chiefs coach Andy Reid said. “We all have to do our job and do it to the best of our ability.”
Reid was then asked how surprised he was after the play was ruled a fumble.
“From my vision, I thought he regained possession of the ball, but I’m not making that call,” said Reid, who later added that he didn’t want to talk about the officiating, because he didn’t have anything good to say.
Kelce obviously shared Reid’s frustration about the play.
“I can’t go back in time,” Kelce said. “It was called a fumble and I have to live with that.”
The call obviously marred a game filled with highs and lows for Kelce, who also had a bad drop and was whistled for two false starts in the first half but bounced back to finish the game with a team-high seven catches for 110 yards.
It was, however, in some ways a fitting end to a maddening week for the 25-year-old second-year pro, who was fined $11,025 for making an obscene gesture with his hand following a late hit on quarterback Alex Smith.
“I really haven’t cared about it, it is what it is,” Kelce said of the incident. “I mean, I got caught on TV doing something stupid.”
Reid said Monday he would speak to Kelce about the incident, and Kelce confirmed they spoke.
“Grow up,” Kelce said of Reid’s message. “I took it as grow up.”
If Kelce, a third-round pick in 2013 who entered the game as the Chiefs’ leader in receiving yards, is to develop into the well-rounded player the team drafted him to be, he will need to heed Reid’s advice. In that vein, Sunday’s loss — and last week’s fine — can serve as a learning experience.
But roughly 30 minutes after a trying loss — and really, a trying week — Kelce really wasn’t trying to hear it.
“It’s one of those things you’ve got to take personally,” Kelce said.
“This was a big game for us to get in the playoffs. At this point, we’ve got to keep winning and have some things go our way.”