The Kansas City Chiefs, along with the other 31 NFL teams, are battling the recent uptick in positive COVID-19 cases. The spread of the virus has swept rapidly through locker rooms as teams are forced to make adjustments on the fly to avoid being shorthanded or having their game postponed.
The wave of new positive tests has affected two of the Chiefs’ offensive stars in Travis Kelce and Tyreek Hill. Each player faces the possibility of being ruled out for this Sunday’s game against the Pittsburgh Steelers, even with the league’s new COVID-19 return-to-play protocols in place. Chiefs QB Patrick Mahomes has relied on both players as his top two targets over the years. The former league MVP shared his thoughts about possibly playing without both players this Sunday with reporters.
“I mean, those guys have gotten a lot of reps with me just within this offense and this league,” Mahomes said. “Obviously, it’s a really complex defense that we’re facing, they’ve played it a couple times even before I was here. So, for me, as long as they’re healthy and they’re safe, and they’ve passed the protocols, and they’re back, we’ll throw them right back into the offense. They’ll be able to take on the roles that they’ve always had.”
Kelce is fresh off scoring the walk-off touchdown reception in the Chiefs’ Week 15 victory over the Chargers. At the same time, Hill is having a career season already over 90 receptions for the season. Mahomes wasn’t too fazed by not having the duo at practice, as he explained during Thursday’s press conference.
“Yeah, it wasn’t too different, I guess you would say,” Mahomes said. “Throughout practices, especially with those two guys, we try to let other guys get some reps in to not only get those other guys reps and get them work but to let them rest their legs with Travis and Tyreek because they run so many routes on game days. Whenever you’re out there, you just try to run the plays and get a look from the defense. You’re not really looking at who’s running the routes; you’re just trying to go through your reads the right way. That’s kind of how we always roll throughout practice; just today, you didn’t have those guys for the main plays that you would usually run with them. Guys are going to step up, guys are going to run routes, and at the end of the day, we’re going to go out there and try to win a football game.”
Mahomes has utilized a variety of receivers this season with Mecole Hardman, Byron Pringle, and Josh Gordon, who returned to practice Thursday after missing last week due to COVID-19 protocols. Rookie tight end Noah Gray could be considered a replacement for Kelce should he not play on Sunday. Mahomes assured reporters that not much would change in the offense’s game plan without Hill and Kelce.
”We haven’t really changed much,” Mahomes explained. “I mean, there are obviously some routes and stuff like that, that Travis (Kelce) and Tyreek (Hill) can run that no one else in this world really can, but really, we just went out there and put a game plan together, trusting these guys to make plays happen and we got the guys to do it. We got the speed; we got the playmakers, and I’m going to keep trusting in them. Hopefully, we have Trav and Tyreek back, but if not, we’ll be ready to go.”
The Chiefs will need to see players step up if both pro bowlers are unavailable. Mahomes will be certainly tested without those targets, but his confidence remains unfazed.