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Inside Patrick Mahomes' and Travis Kelce's perfect night to carry the Chiefs to another Super Bowl

BALTIMORE — Travis Kelce dismounted the trophy ceremony stage and reunited with Taylor Swift.

“Family?” she asked, their arms around each other’s waists.

“I’m trying to find my brother,” the tight end told the international pop star after his Kansas City Chiefs had triumphed 17-10 over the Baltimore Ravens in the AFC championship game.

Swift pointed to Kelce’s mother, Donna, and his father, Ed. She explained that brother Jason — also the Philadelphia Eagles’ starting center the past 13 years — was “lagging behind.” Then they located Jason closer to midfield and approached, with Swift stepping aside to give the brothers a moment.

“That was fun to watch,” Jason screamed over the rancor of the Chiefs’ fourth Super Bowl berth in five years. “Finish this motherf***er.”

“F*** yeah,” Travis responded, in tears. “Goddamn, I love you.”

Plenty has changed for the Kelces in the year since the Super Bowl in which the brothers’ teams faced off, the Super Bowl in which their mother so thoroughly leaned into the public spotlight. Swift wasn’t in the picture then. Jason wasn’t on the brink of retirement, nor had he received a, well, non-football accolade from People Magazine. And yet, a year ago — like three and four years ago — the Chiefs were riding a similar recipe to the biggest stage.

Because even as Travis Kelce’s 34th birthday came and went this season, the Patrick Mahomes-Travis Kelce playoff connection is as lethal as ever.

Kelce caught all 11 of his targets from Mahomes on Sunday for a game-high 116 receiving yards (121 from scrimmage) and the game-opening touchdown in their sixth consecutive conference title game appearance. In a matchup of top-three quarterbacks and top-three defenses, the Mahomes-to-Kelce magnetic field was the separator.

Now, as the Chiefs ready for a Super Bowl against the San Francisco 49ers, the most successful quarterback-receiver duo in NFL postseason history is positioned to decide yet another big game. They’re confident, too, that they’ll deliver.

“When the lights get brighter, he plays better,” Mahomes said of his tight end. “That’s the true mark of a champion, and that’s what he is.”

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Kansas City Chiefs QB Patrick Mahomes (left) and tight end Travis Kelce connected on 11-of-11 targets in Sunday's AFC championship win over the Baltimore Ravens. (Photo by Kara Durrette/Getty Images)
Kansas City Chiefs QB Patrick Mahomes (left) and tight end Travis Kelce connected on 11-of-11 targets in Sunday's AFC championship win over the Baltimore Ravens. (Photo by Kara Durrette/Getty Images) (Kara Durrette via Getty Images)

Mahomes and Kelce find early connection

The Chiefs' offense took the field with 13:26 to play in the first quarter. Mahomes promptly threw a short pass to the line of scrimmage. Kelce caught it and muscled 4 yards up field.

Seven plays later, running back Isiah Pacheco had failed to convert on third-and-2. Forget the early stage of the game, and forget the relatively short field the Chiefs would surrender if they turned the ball over on downs at the Baltimore 41-yard line.

Kansas City went for it on fourth-and-2. Mahomes drifted right and then unleashed as Ravens outside linebacker Jadeveon Clowney neared. Kelce leapt and stretched his arms past cornerback Brandon Stephens to haul in a 13-yard pass.

The duo connected again three plays later, when Mahomes pump-faked and nailed a backward-somersaulting Kelce in the shallow right corner of the end zone for a 19-yard touchdown. An ebullient Kelce spiked the ball.

“Man-to-man, it was a great throw [and] catch. You have to live with it,” said Ravens All-Pro safety Kyle Hamilton, whose tight coverage on the play wasn’t enough.

The Ravens soon also had to live with a Mahomes floater to Kelce to convert on third-and-1, the lob ironic against a defense that has publicly denounced “basketball on grass.” And when the Ravens' secondary blurred Mahomes’ options on third-and-5 early in the second quarter? The quarterback ultimately scrambled 25.9 yards across 9.78 seconds, per Next Gen Stats, before somehow willing the ball into Kelce’s waiting hands 10 yards up the middle.

The still-alive drive resulted in the Chiefs' second touchdown scored in as many tries. Kansas City didn’t know then, with 31 minutes and 59 seconds left of game time, that the Ravens would never catch up.

“Whenever you go from having to cover somebody for three seconds to six, seven, eight seconds, it's tough, and [Mahomes] is able to do that for us time and time again,” Chiefs linebacker Drue Tranquill said. “Travis is great, whether it's man or zone, at just finding the soft spot and finding Patrick and getting his hands up and catching the ball.

“A special player.”

Secret to Chiefs’ dynamic duo: ‘They can freestyle’

The football gods might as well have been carrying the passes that Mahomes threw to Kelce. The Ravens guarded Kelce more tightly in the second half, but Mahomes and Kelce did not miss on any of their 11 targets.

Four of the Chiefs’ seven longest plays were courtesy of Mahomes-Kelce magic. And four times (not the same four times), Kelce extended a possession on which Mahomes trusted him on third or fourth down.

It didn’t matter if the pass was behind the line of scrimmage or 21 yards down the right half of the field surrounded by three defenders — Mahomes and Kelce managed both. They connected on the high lob and the low dive, the immediate release and the improbably extended play. The duo that a week earlier broke Tom Brady and Rob Gronkowski’s record for postseason touchdowns between a quarterback and a receiving target is far from finished.

“They're always on the same page. They don't have to look at each other,” Chiefs receiver Marquez Valdes-Scantling said in a postgame locker room that reeked of cigar smoke. “Travis is just one of those guys where he's a freestyler, you know, and Pat is also one of those guys who also is a freestyler. So they can freestyle and not know what each other is going to do and still be on the same page.

“No matter what you do, you can't defend it.”

Chiefs defensive end Charles Omenihu, who played against Kansas City while a member of the Houston Texans, agreed. The key to thwarting them?

“Nobody doing it, so I don’t know,” he told Yahoo Sports. “Both smart players. … I’m glad I’m on this side.”

Teammates were eager to praise not only Mahomes' and Kelce’s product but also their work ethic, practice routines, confidence-instilling leadership and football IQ. The duo knows what each other’s thinking, and they also know what comes next.

When the AFC trophy stage arrived on the M&T Bank Stadium field, they knew the routine. They knew the swag that would come, and they were ready for their speeches.

“Where’s my T-shirt at, baby?” Kelce asked everyone and no one in particular as he hugged teammates and opponents in the postgame madness. “Where’s my f***ing T-shirt at, man?”

Only after he secured the gray “CHIEFS ARE ALL IN” T-shirt did Kelce find his loved ones, embracing first his mother, then Swift (for a bit longer) and then his father. Minutes later, it was time to take the stage, so Travis left Swift with his parents and joined his teammates.

“You’ve got to fiiiiiight,” he shouted into the microphone. “For your riiiiight. To parttttty.”

Swift shook her head, laughing at her boyfriend as the crowd joined him in channeling the Beastie Boys.

Ceremony complete, Kelce and Swift reunited, the energy from each of their elite performances palpable. A Las Vegas Super Bowl loomed in two weeks, but that was a task to tackle tomorrow.

So Travis and Swift set off to find Jason — and to celebrate.