Kansas City Chiefs tight end Travis Kelce will play against the Cincinnati Bengals in the AFC Championship Game on Sunday, per NFL on CBS reporter Tracy Wolfson. He's officially active, the team announced.
Kelce just told me no way he wouldn’t play in this one! Reid just wanted to make sure Kelce did some running before making a decision. He did and looked good. #Chiefs— Tracy Wolfson (@tracywolfson) January 29, 2023
Kelce, who was added to the injury report Friday due to a back issue, was listed as questionable initially before being labeled a "game-time decision" on Sunday afternoon, according to Fox. Now, he looks like he'll play through the pain with a trip to the Super Bowl on the line.
Wide receiver Mecole Hardman, one of the team's top speedsters, is also active. He's been sidelined since suffering a pelvic injury in Week 9 against the Tennessee Titans on "Sunday Night Football." In Hardman's last fully healthy game, Week 7 at the San Francisco 49ers, Hardman totaled a career-high three scrimmage touchdowns (one receiving and two rushing).
Kelce caught 14 passes, tied for the third-most in a playoff game all-time and one short of tying the single-game record, for 98 yards and two touchdowns a week ago in Kansas City's divisional round win last week against the Jacksonville Jaguars. With Mahomes less than 100% due to a high-ankle sprain, he'll need to rely even more on Kelce, his security blanket, since he won't be able to use his scrambling magic to create as many passing lanes.
The 33-year-old led all tight ends in catches (110), receiving yards (1,338) and receiving touchdowns (12) this season, and he's en route to becoming one of the most prolific postseason pass-catchers in NFL history. His 120 playoff receptions are the second-most all-time behind only the receiving GOAT Jerry Rice (120); his 1,389 playoff receiving yards are tied for the third-most all-time with Rob Gronkowski; and his 14 receiving touchdowns are the third-most all-time, but he'll leap into second behind only Rice in that category with just two more scores.
In order for the Chiefs to beat the Bengals and go on to win the Super Bowl, they'll need more Kelce like Will Ferrell and Christopher Walken needed more cowbell. Kelce's stat line of four catches for 56 yards didn't cut it in a 27-24 loss to the Bengals in Week 13, and even his 10-catch, 95-yard, one-touchdown performance wasn't enough in Kansas City's 27-24 overtime defeat in last year's AFC Championship, also against Cincinnati.
Should Kelce be limited because of his back injury, wide receivers JuJu Smith-Schuster, second on the team in receptions and receiving yards this season, and Marquez Valdes-Scantling, whose 16.4 yards per receptions were the fourth-highest in the NFL this season, as well as running back Jerick McKinnon, whose nine receiving touchdowns are tied for the most by a running back since the 1970 AFL/NFL merger, would likely be the primary candidates asked to step up in an attempt to return Kansas City to the Super Bowl.