Inside the incubator of showmanship that is the NFL, it’s a challenge to generate new material when it comes to end-zone celebrations.
The dynamic, whimsical mind of Chiefs tight end Travis Kelce, though, uncorked an original schtick for his 42-yard touchdown on Sunday against Houston at NRG Stadium.
And as goofy as his windmill-arm-down-the-sideline-punch-the-ball-into-the-end-seats routine was, it also offered an eloquent statement of much more.
The act was both a tribute and a fitting exclamation point on a play that served as a microcosm of how the Chiefs earned a 27-20 season-opening win over the Texans.
It’s a win that could prove pivotal in the Chiefs pursuit of the playoffs, and it certainly cranks up the anticipation of their hopes of beating the rival Denver Broncos on Thursday at Arrowhead Stadium.
In an opener notable for contributions from the freshly arrived likes of receiver Jeremy Maclin (five receptions), first-round draft pick Marcus Peters (an interception on his first play from scrimmage) and an entirely rejiggered offensive line, Kelce’s gesture was a nod to another revived phase of the operation.
On his way to the end zone after exposing a void in the secondary by wiggling inside and out to cradle Alex Smith’s lob, Kelce was thinking of defensive teammates Mike DeVito, Derrick Johnson and Eric Berry.
Each faced arduous roads back this season:
DeVito and Johnson missed nearly all of the 2014 season when they suffered ruptured Achilles’ tendons in the season opener; Berry missed the last five games after suffering a hit in Oakland that led to his being diagnosed with Hodgkin lymphoma.
Yet here they were, with Johnson leading the Chiefs with eight tackles (including a sack) and DeVito helping clog up the line of scrimmage as the Chiefs held the Texans to 98 rushing yards.
Most crucially, they stuffed them — with the help of back surgery recoveree Dontari Poe — on fourth and 1 at the Kansas City 11.
Then there was Berry, in a category of his own.
“It’s still kind of surreal, what he’s been through,” Kelce said.
So, really, was Kelce’s breakdown of just how that windmill stuff played into this.
Fair to say it might be more clear to him than the rest of us, but here is the spirit of it:
Apparently, DeVito has what Kelce calls “one heck of a punch.” And, apparently, before the game, Kelce told DeVito that to “give a punch, you’ve got to wind up, so I’m going to go ahead and wind up before I give one.”
Then, shazam — he wound up on his way to the score for “Mike and D.J. and E.B. for getting back in the lineup and being out there.”
Anyway, it’s the thought that counts.
Which, incidentally, takes us to the other ways in which that play was so meaningful to the outcome … even if the one that will be replayed most from this game will be that one of Hulk-like Texans end J.J. Watt sacking Smith even after being stripped of his helmet along the way.
The game and that play in particular were all about coach Andy Reid “dialing up the right things at the right time,” Kelce said.
And the scheming of Reid was nothing less than phenomenal in the first half, when the Chiefs scored all of their points before going into bunker mode for better or worse in the second half.
Until then, they had the Texans constantly off-balance with play selection enabled by the new-found dimension of players like Maclin.
It’s “kind of take what they give you,” Maclin said, and “pick your poison,” as Smith put it.
Smith might have used that line before, come to think of it, but never as accurately as now.
While Maclin’s numbers were humble, they don’t reflect how much attention he drew away from others. They also would have looked significantly better if an arcane rule (and a Texans challenge) hadn’t snuffed out his acrobatic 39-yard catch.
The other marquee offensive star, Jamaal Charles, also had a relatively quiet day, rushing 16 times for 57 yards and catching five passes for 46 and a touchdown.
All of which helps account for why Kelce emerged as the central threat on Sunday, when he had six catches for 106 yards and two touchdowns.
Those included, of course, that career-long 42-yard reception, a reminder that the Chiefs seek to use various vertical elements of the West Coast offense.
Even if they have to do it with an offensive line that featured zero players who started for them last year, but acquitted themselves well on Sunday.
“Play-action pass, seven-step drop, on the road versus that defensive line,” Smith said, “that’s asking a lot.”
As it played out, Kelce was asked for a lot on Sunday and seized the moment.
His day also included a 10-yard TD slanting into the end zone after a deft outside fake.
It featured shrugging off a tackler for a key 10-yard reception for a first down on third and 6 with 3 minutes, 21 seconds left after the Texans had cut a 27-9 lead to 27-17.
Then there was another catch that also epitomized his day — and that of the Chiefs.
In the second quarter, Kelce absorbed a rough shot just as he caught the ball.
Somehow, he kept running another few yards for a gain of 18 even after what he described as having the wind knocked out of him.
“I’m not going to lie: Once I got hit, it took me a good four seconds to realize that I couldn’t breathe …” Kelce said, smiling. “It was, like, ‘Is there a rib in my lung right there?’”
Like the teammates he honored, Kelce was resilient enough to return.
Meanwhile, he had long since knocked the air out of Houston.