Travis Kelce caught everything Sunday.
Yet nobody could catch Kelce.
While the rest of the Kansas City players celebrated their 17-10 victory over the Baltimore Ravens — a win that sends the Chiefs to their fourth Super Bowl in five years — the star tight end quickly dressed and ducked out of the locker room, presumably to spend time with girlfriend Taylor Swift.
Not surprisingly, Swift created a huge hubbub on the field at M&T Bank Stadium, making her way down from a luxury suite to see the AFC championship trophy celebration from up close. She hugged and kissed Kelce, who delivered a spectacular performance with a game-high 11 catches for 116 yards and a touchdown.
Even when things should have gone wrong for Kelce, he somehow salvaged them. For instance, on third down early in the second quarter, Patrick Mahomes dropped back, scrambled around through a flock of Ravens defenders, then — as he was being bent in half by a hit to his waist — tossed an end-over-end pass toward his tight end.
Kelce made a diving, Superman-style catch for 10 yards, keeping the touchdown drive alive.
“Of course Travis ran the wrong route and he ended up getting the football,” Mahomes said, grinning and playfully rolling his eyes.
It has been that kind of season for the Chiefs, who were playing in their sixth consecutive AFC title game and now have a chance to become the first team since the 2003-04 New England Patriots to win back-to-back Super Bowls.
Mahomes, who has made the conference championship game each of his six seasons as a starter, had his first true road playoff game this season — two of them, in fact, with wins at Buffalo and Baltimore.
“It’s been a crazy path, but the guys kept persevering through everybody’s best shot,” Chiefs coach Andy Reid said. “It’s been a great job by them, and we can really appreciate this.”
This marked the first time Baltimore had hosted the AFC championship game since 1971, when the hometown Colts beat the Oakland Raiders.
It was the Ravens’ fourth AFC title appearance under coach John Harbaugh and first in 11 years.
As the Chiefs will tell you, experience counts.
“Because we’ve handled that big stage, I think it only helps us for this upcoming Super Bowl,” Kansas City kicker Harrison Butker said. “We’ve been there before, we’ve done that. I think it helped us in this game as well. The last time the Ravens were in the AFC championship game was 2012. We do a good job handling those big moments.”
But Sunday was not a great game for Jackson, who fell prey to a strip sack in the first half and was intercepted in the end zone in the fourth quarter.
“We had some opportunities out there,” Jackson said. “We’ve just got to take advantage of them. [We] can't turn the ball over, fumble, [throw an] interception — stuff like that. That gave them opportunities to put points on the board and win the game. We get in that red zone, it's been our touchdown all season. We've just got to finish, and we didn't do a good job on finishing.”
On the first play of that final period, the Ravens had a chance to pull within a field goal of the Chiefs but were undone by another devastating turnover. Jackson completed an eight-yard pass to rookie Zay Flowers, who then was stripped of the ball at the one-yard line by cornerback L’Jarius Sneed. The fumble bounced into the end zone and Kansas City recovered for a touchback.
It was Flowers who scored Baltimore’s only touchdown. On the Ravens’ opening drive, Jackson spun out of a would-be sack and heaved a long pass to a wide-open Flowers. The crowd went crazy, especially when a group of Ravens formed a chorus line of sorts in the end zone then collectively rocked side to side in a mocking version of a “Swag Surf” celebration that Swift and friends did in an earlier playoff game.
The Flowers catch evened the score after Kelce capped Kansas City’s opening drive with a sliding touchdown catch, one that barely eluded the fingertips of Ravens Pro Bowl safety Kyle Hamilton.
As for Swift, she’ll have to work some magic to get to the Super Bowl. Her Eras Tour resumes Feb. 7 in Japan, and she has a concert there scheduled for Feb. 10, the night before the NFL finale. There’s a 17-hour time difference between Tokyo and Las Vegas.
By outward appearances, the couple is trying to spend as much time together as possible.
Just check out Kelce’s empty locker in the wake of his Hall of Fame-type performance.
You could hear it in the silence.
This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.