Travis Kelce is a stressful dilemma for about any coach, and his rare and spectacular skill-set were pivotal for the Chiefs in their 27-20 victory over Philadelphia on Sunday at Arrowhead Stadium.
At 6 foot 5 and 260 pounds, his uncanny hybrid powers somehow enable him to be swift and nimble enough to get clear for a 44-yard pass from Alex Smith to set up the Chiefs’ first score of the day.
The tight end also has the springs and sheer nerve to crash and vault from the 5-yard line into the end zone to punctuate a 15-yard shovel pass and give the Chiefs a 20-13 lead.
“To go airborne like that, to find a way to get into the end zone, I thought was crazy,” Smith said.
Trouble is, “crazy” is another operative word when it comes to Kelce and his ongoing apparent absence of impulse control.
As in he’s driving Chiefs head coach Andy Reid crazy with his antics. Because the very things that make the charismatic Kelce mesmerizing make him an incident waiting to happen.
Instead of Kelce making good on his self-proclaimed intention to be a leader, and not be “the young idiot on the field doing immature things,” with another taunting penalty on Sunday (and yet another he easily could’ve earned), Kelce extended his pattern of lunk-headed behavior.
After Kareem Hunt broke off a 53-yard touchdown run, Kelce ran to the Eagles’ sideline to taunt the Philadelphia players (and perhaps his brother, center Jason Kelce) — leaving a furious Reid barking at him afterward.
Kelce was so chastened by that scolding that after his later touchdown he proceeded to flap his arms in ridicule of the Eagles’ “Fly Eagles Fly” celebration.
After the game, he wasn’t exactly owning it or being accountable as a player who has declared himself a leader of this team.
Instead, he basically doubled down.
Maybe this maturity thing is a campaign he ought to tamp down a bit.
Asked what Reid said to him after the personal foul, Kelce said, “Yeah, man, it was a close game ’til the fourth (quarter), then we just took off. It was exciting to see the offense come together. It’s fun. When we’re rolling up front, we’re a heck of a team.”
Lest he misheard the question, in a follow-up he was asked what happened on the penalty and what Reid tried to get across to him afterward:
“Yeah, Kareem Hunt went to the house, man. He can play some football, I’ll tell you that. And the O-line blocked it perfectly up front …”
Asked if he simply didn’t want to answer the question, Kelce turned away and said, “Any other questions?”
It was bit reminiscent of Royals third baseman Mike Moustakas’ “Vargy pitched a great game” shtick of 2014 — with the key difference being that Moustakas had been dealing with a lot of heat and hadn’t declared himself a responsible adult.
And, hey, totally fine if Kelce wants to play that game with the media.
But there’s no evidence he’s listening to Reid any more than he was those questions.
And there’s certainly no evidence to support that he wants to behave more responsibly as he approaches his 28th birthday next month.
Small wonder Reid had scarcely a word to say about him after the game, tersely offering only that, “He can’t do that, right? He can’t do that.”
Reid later deferred any real answer about dealing with the dichotomy of Kelce, but no doubt he’s weary of it and maybe even wary of it after a fourth straight game when it’s been an issue, going back to last season.
That doesn’t even include two other episodes from late 2016:
During a win over Jacksonville, Kelce earned a $24,309 fine after throwing his towel toward a referee to mock a perceived non-call against Jacksonville, resulting in an ejection for his second unsportsmanlike-conduct penalty of the game.
A few weeks later, he criticized Reid’s play-calling after a loss to Tennessee.
Those were just the warm-up acts though.
He was later benched for the first series in the regular-season finale against San Diego for reasons that never were explained; was fined more than $20,000 after his gratuitous shove of a Pittsburgh defender and postgame rant following the playoff loss to the Steelers; and only last week was fined $12,154 for unsportsmanlike conduct at New England after pushing the football into Kyle Van Noy’s groin at the end of a play.
This is what might be called a pattern.
Except, unlike Sunday, Kelce expressed some form of remorse for those incidents.
“I apologize to everyone that had to witness my actions on the field today... it was unprofessional and unsportsmanlike,” he wrote on Twitter after the towel toss. “A missed call is just that... missed. No matter how much frustration builds on the field, the refs don’t deserve that kind of response.”
Over and over, Reid has said some form of “it’s been addressed,” making a point of noting that the very things that make Kelce great are what make him volatile.
“Listen, he’s an emotional guy — he plays the game that way,” Reid said last season. “Nobody wants to win more than him; that’s how it is.”
The trick is to somehow contain Kelce’s emotions without neutering him — and maybe it’s just too much to ask.
With Reid fuming too much to really address it again immediately, the ever-tactful-but-truthful Smith took up the topic on Sunday.
“I mean, we love the passion around here,” Smith said. “We talk about having personality and letting the personality show, playing with passion and enjoying what you do. …
“He’s a guy that plays with a ton of passion. Certainly, the touchdown run was an example of that. I mean, how much it means to him, how much he works and sacrifices every day to go out there.”
“I mean, certainly you’ve seen times the last two weeks that it’s gotten the better of him too, though,” Smith added. “I think it’s a balance. Not trying to eliminate any of that passion or that will, or that hunger.
“(But) he’s just got to be smart at times, because it could end up costing you for sure.”
With no evidence Kelce has any interest in or ability to stop the nonsense, the hijinks will continue until Reid thinks it’s important enough to bench him.
Trouble is, he’s too talented to sit, too capable to waste.
It’s the exhilarating/asperating paradox of Kelce, a spectacular talent who can’t seem to stop being a spectacle.
Perhaps he ought to accept that instead of aspiring to one of the few things he just can’t do on the field — check himself.