No Sammy Watkins for now and no more Kareem Hunt period seemed like a problem for the Chiefs at Oakland Sunday, yet quarterback Patrick Mahomes found a way to continue his historic season with help from tight end Travis Kelce in a 40-33 win over the Raiders.
"Kelce made plays all day long if I gave him chances," Mahomes told reporters after the game.
The Raiders defense focused much of their attention on shutting down Tyreek Hill, and they did indeed accomplish that mission. Hill caught just one pass on six targets for 13 yards. That strategic decision, however, left Kelce wide open much of the afternoon. The tight end delivered career bests with 12 catches for 168 yards and matching his career-high with two touchdown catches.
Kelce's day started inauspiciously with a short pass over the middle from Mahomes on the first play of the game. He rumbled for a 24-yard gain before Oakland linebacker Tahir Whitehead dislodged the ball at the end of the play and gave possession to the Raiders.
But Kelce bounced back on the next drive, capping off a two-play, 65-yard drive with a 3-yard touchdown catch giving the Chiefs a 7-0 lead.
The Raiders entered the game as prohibitive underdogs, but they hang with the Chiefs throughout the afternoon. Running back Doug Martin plunged in from 1-yard lout with 1 minute, 4 seconds remaining in the first half to cut the margin to 13-7.
But Mahomes and Chiefs responded once again before halftime. A five-play, 82-yard drive capped off by a 6-yard touchdown catch by Kelce extended the lead. A blocked extra point left the score at 19-7 heading to the half
Raiders head coach Jon Gruden said his defense couldn't stop Kelce from getting open.
"Travis and Patrick, they must live together or something," Gruden said. "They made some incredible plays. Give some credit to those guys. You can't do anything sometimes, but tip your hat."
The big performance boosted Kelce to 1,082 receiving yards on the season, making him the second tight end in league history with three-straight 1,000-yard seasons. Kelce is closing in on his career high of 1,125 yards which he reached in 2016.
But the Raiders refuse to go away, continuing a charge in the second half lead by tight end Jared Cook with seven catches for 100 yards and a touchdown. The team's run game generated 171 yards on the day, led by Jalen Richard with 95 yards.
But miscues proved costly for Gruden's squad. Oakland had four fumbles on the day, losing three to the Chiefs. The Raiders also picked up eight penalties for 74 yards, including a holding call on a fourth-and-1 on their opening possession that spoiled a scoring opportunity.
"I thought the 4th-and-1 play in the opening possession where we converted it and had a holding call, it turned out it was a turnover that I did not agree with," Gruden said. "Three fumbles and a fourth-and-1 conversion called back into that field possession, that was like four turnovers against the Kansas City Chiefs, that is going to be tough to overcome."
Yet the Raiders still found the game within reach late in fourth quarter. A 9-yard touchdown pass from quarterback Derek Carr to receiver Marcell Ateman cut the lead to 33-30. Carr finished the day 29-of-38 for 285 yards and three touchdowns.
But Mahomes still had more magic in him. Mahomes completed 23 of 38 passes for 295 yards. His fourth touchdown of the day, a 2-yard toss to wide receiver Chris Conley inside the two-minute warning provide the winning cushion. Mahomes leads the league with 41 touchdown passes, becoming the ninth quarterback with at least 40 touchdown passes in a season. He's also the youngest quarterback to reach that mark, besting Dan Marino by two days.
Kelce said Mahomes possesses extraordinary confidence for a young quarterback.
"I think a lot of it has to do with coach Reid's trust in him to be able to take full control of this offense," Kelce said. "Then there are the guys around him. The offensive line has done an unbelievable job. They've kept him clean, and the times that he's had to get out of the pocket, I mean that's his specialty. Just being able to make plays when the plays need to be made, that's Patty Mahomes."
The Chiefs managed to put 40 points on the board without two of their key offensive playmakers. Watkins remains out with a foot injury, but the departure of Hunt completely changes the look of the Kansas City backfield. The club released Hunt Friday evening after a security video surfaced showing the details of his physical altercation with a 19-year-old woman at a Cleveland hotel in February.
Hunt's departure created a scramble for the Chiefs offensive game planning. Veteran Spencer Ware stepped into the starting lineup, picking up 47 yards and a touchdown on 14 carries. Mahomes scrambled for 52 yards to lead the team's rushing attack, which tallied 174 yards without Hunt.
Head coach Andy Reid also worked Hill and backup running back Damien Williams into the mix to jump start the run game.
"We kind of did it by committee with the quarterback involved with that also and some of the coverages they were playing allowed us to do that with the quarterback, which ends up being important when you talk about the overall run game down the road," Reid said.
Reid said it was nice to see Ware back in the lineup as a starter. He rushed for 921 yards as the team's featured back in 2016, but a knee injury during preseason last year finished his season and pave the way for Hunt's breakout rookie campaign. The Chiefs plan to bring in veteran running backs Charcandrick West and C.J. Anderson for tryouts on Monday, but Reid expects a running back committee chaired by Ware for the time being.
"I'm sure we'll continue to rotate him," Reid said. "I'll go back and look at it. I mean that's what we were doing today, trying to keep everybody fresh and going."