John Rieger-USA TODAY Sports

No Jamaal Charles? The Chiefs now need more from Travis Kelce than ever

From Alex Smith’s comfort to conversions in the red zone, there was always going to come a time when Kelce was going to have to be counted on to take the next step. With Jamaal Charles lost for the season, that time appears to be right now.

When Travis Kelce scores, the Kansas City Chiefs are 5-1 since 2014. Five up, 10 down when he doesn’t.

When Travis Kelce notches at least 84 receiving yards in a game, the Andy Gang is 3-1 over the last season-and-a-third. Seven up, 10 down when he’s at 83 or fewer.

Your serve, Zeus.

With Jamaal Charles on the shelf for the rest of 2015, the victim of an invisible turf monster and horrific karma, it’s all hands on deck in Andy Reid’s locker room. At 1-4, every win for the Chiefs gets slapped with the “must-win” tag, the urgency mounting as the calendar inches closer to Halloween.

But some hands are more important, more vital, to this particular wheel than others. Which swings us back to Kelce, the crazy-gifted tight end whose presence the last two games has been noticeable by the puzzling lack thereof.

Week 1: Six grabs, 106 yards, two scores. 27-20 win.

Week 4: Five grabs, 49 yards, no scores. 36-21 setback.

Week 5: Three grabs, 35 yards, no scores. 18-17 setback.

Your serve, Zeus.

The four-headed monster of Charcandrick West, Knile Davis, De’Anthony Thomas and Spencer Ware can do a lot of things, and a lot of things well, but they don’t add up to one Charles, one of the best backs on the planet because he also happens to also be one of the best blocking backs and best pass-catching backs on the circuit.

Whereas most teams have to create sub packages for passing downs and distances, Reid could count on Charles in any circumstance or formation, roll him backfield, slot, or wide, the all-purpose skeleton key.

They’ll miss that. Will they ever.

But they’ll miss the Scarlet Speedster in the red zone, too. Badly. Charles accounted for five of the club’s 12 touchdowns through the first five weeks (40 percent), and for 19 of the Chiefs’ last 52 (36.5 percent) dating back to last September. And that’s the crux of where Kelce comes in, why he’s never had more a say in what’s left of this franchise’s 2015 destiny.

Of the 24 red-zone targets for Chiefs receivers or backs this season, Kelce accounts for a team-best six of them — Charles and Jeremy Maclin are next on the list, with five each.

But big No. 87 was targeted only once against the Bears last weekend inside the 20. Ditto the weekend before at Cincinnati. Ditto Week 3 in Green Bay. Charles was targeted against Denver three different times in the red zone during Week 2.

Your serve, Zeus.

Even in his third NFL season, and just his second healthy one, there was probably going to come a time, and soon, when the Chiefs were going to need Kelce more than ever. Need him to take the pressure off of Smith. Need him to give Maclin a true running mate. Need him to take the next step.

That time is here. Right here. Right now.


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