Chiefs' receivers pushed past brutal errors to help guide Super Bowl return

LAS VEGAS – The bait to declare his season a full-circle success story dangled in front of Marquez Valdes-Scantling. The Kansas City Chiefs wide receiver refused to take it.

In Week 11, he was the goat against the Philadelphia Eagles in a rematch of Super Bowl 57. Two months later, his diving catch on third down against the Baltimore Ravens sealed the AFC title for the Chiefs and sent them to Super Bowl 58 against the San Francisco 49ers.

Valdes-Scantling and the Chiefs receiver room had to compartmentalize the lowlights of the season – which began with Kadarius Toney's series of drops in the opening loss to the Detroit Lions and later included a 2-4 stretch that culminated with a loss to the Las Vegas Raiders on Christmas Day – to earn a chance to repeat as champions.

After all, Valdes-Scantling reminded reporters Monday and Tuesday, the group is one season removed from being the league’s No. 1 offense and helping quarterback Patrick Mahomes win his second MVP.

Mahomes himself – and his will to win – had plenty to do with getting the Chiefs near the mountaintop once again.

How Valdes-Scantling shook off brutal drop vs. Eagles

Kansas City Chiefs wide receiver Marquez Valdes-Scantling (11) celebrates his catch against the Baltimore Ravens during the second half of an AFC Championship NFL football game, Sunday, Jan. 28, 2024, in Baltimore.
Kansas City Chiefs wide receiver Marquez Valdes-Scantling (11) celebrates his catch against the Baltimore Ravens during the second half of an AFC Championship NFL football game, Sunday, Jan. 28, 2024, in Baltimore.

The drop against the Eagles came with less than two minutes left and the Chiefs trailing by four. Mahomes uncorked a 55-yard bomb that hit Valdes-Scantling in stride. The receiver couldn’t hang onto the ball through the rain that night, and the Chiefs lost, 21-17.

Looking back on the play, Valdes-Scantling downplayed the gaffe.

"It’s not going to affect my career in any way, shape or form," he said.

It certainly didn’t when Mahomes called his number against the Ravens on a third-and-9 that iced the game.

"It was just another play to be made … a routine play that we practiced hundreds and hundreds of times," Valdes-Scantling said.

That demeanor has endeared “MVS” to teammates.

“To stay himself and just always continue to roll, what more can you ask for from a vet?” receiver Richie James told USA TODAY Sports. “He’s been doing this a long time.”

Rookie Rashee Rice has emerged as Mahomes’ go-to option at wide receiver while tight end Travis Kelce is typically the top choice when not covered by two (or three) defenders. Rice provides the Chiefs with a capable route-runner in the intermediate game and someone who can break an explosive play.

Valdes-Scantling, a sixth-year pro, has become a mentor to Rice through his words – such as advice on how to take care of his body as a NFL player – and his actions.

"Without even having to say anything to me, he taught me how to face adversity: keep your head up. Come to work every day," said Rice, who led the team in touchdown catches (seven) and finished second behind Kelce on the team in catches (79) and receiving yards (938).

The way Valdes-Scantling responded to the drop against the Eagles also impressed Chiefs head coach Andy Reid.

"MVS has done a really nice job," Reid said. "He had a couple big drops early in the season, and he just kept working. He’s mentally tough. He’s smart. He understands the offense. So, he just pounded through it and he worked at it."

Reid added one more point: “And the quarterback maintained confidence in him and has kept using him.”

The Mahomes factor

Chiefs center Creed Humphrey has worked with Mahomes for three seasons now. He likes to think they have a solid rapport and that he knows No. 15 pretty well.

"Just his competitiveness, his hunger to win, things like that," Humphrey told USA TODAY Sports, "I think it’s unmatched around the league."

For former Chiefs offensive lineman Mitchell Schwartz, this stretch run has provided Mahomes with a platform to declare "I am this good."

"Pat blends that (Michael) Jordan, Kobe (Bryant), (Tom) Brady level of (competitiveness) with cool, with Joe Montana cool. That’s something that’s rare," Schwartz told the "This Is Football" podcast.

From the outside, Schwartz said, Mahomes doesn’t seem like the type of superstar who would internalize slights and criticisms – toward him or his teammates – and dissolve them into fuel.

"He’s cool as a cucumber and every single game he’s going to treat the same," Schwartz said. "It’s not like he needs to see that to succeed."

The budding connection with Rice also helped salvage Kansas City’s passing attack.

"It’s hard, this offense, to learn," Mahomes said.

Reid’s system calls for receivers to run certain routes certain ways depending on man coverage or zone coverage. Mahomes hasn’t seen Rice make the same mistake twice.

"And that’s why his role is getting bigger and bigger," Mahomes said.

Valdes-Scantling said Mahomes found different ways to motivate teammates this past year.

"He’s just a great leader," the receiver said.

This adjustment for Chiefs wideouts opened up passing game

Catching passes from the best quarterback of his generation didn’t hurt when it came to Valdes-Scantling and the rest of the receiver room in finding their footing.

One particular adjustment helped streamline everything for the operation: limiting substitutions.

"Just trying to figure out ways to get guys on the field and keep guys on the field instead of in for a play, out for a play," Valdes-Scantling said.

Rice agreed that finding ways to keep receivers on the field, “just so we could stay in a rhythm,” was beneficial.

"You definitely feel the shift – we’ve always had the same energy," James said. “But you definitely see it. We’re picking it up a bit more. ‘C’mon now, we’re rolling now.’"

Those outside the room have noticed.

"I think they’re playing their best ball right now," Humphrey said, "and it’s been fun to see."

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Chiefs powered past receivers' brutal errors for Super Bowl return