On the verge of history, Travis Kelce is the one constant for the Chiefs

KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- Travis Kelce's value to the Kansas City Chiefs was never more evident than on a third-quarter play during Sunday's win over the Oakland Raiders.

The game hadn't been a spectacular one up to that point for Kelce, who dropped a few passes, but one play turned things around. Kelce found an open spot in the Raiders' zone defense to make a 47-yard catch. The play sparked a touchdown drive that put the Chiefs ahead 31-0.

The play put Kelce in range for his fourth straight 1,000-yard season -- a feat no NFL tight end has accomplished, not even former Chiefs great and Hall of Famer Tony Gonzalez. Kelce holds the current record of three straight seasons along with Carolina Panthers tight end Greg Olsen, who accomplished the feat from 2014 to 2016. Kelce needs 77 yards to reach 1,000 and could do that Sunday (4:25 p.m. ET, CBS) at the home of former New England Patriots great Rob Gronkowski.

Kelce ranks ninth in the league in receiving yards this season. He's on pace for 91 catches and 1,231 yards, though those wouldn't be career highs. He caught 103 passes for 1,336 yards last season.

This might be Kelce's most important season in terms of his value to the Chiefs. Starting quarterback Patrick Mahomes missed two-and-a-half games because of a knee injury. One starting wide receiver, Tyreek Hill, missed all of four games and most of two others because of injuries. The other starting wideout, Sammy Watkins, teased the Chiefs with a 198-yard, three-touchdown game in the season opener but has produced little of significance since.

Kelce has been around for every game, almost every snap, and he has helped hold everything together.

"I'm just trying to get as many yards as I can when I've got the ball in my hands and be there for Pat every time I get a chance to run a route," Kelce said.

Backup quarterback Matt Moore, who didn't join the Chiefs until shortly before the regular season started, was thrust into the lineup for the injured Mahomes without much practice time. The first passes he threw to many of the receivers, Kelce included, came in his first game -- not even in practice.

"He was a huge security blanket," Moore said. "Knowing there was a guy like that you could look for in a time of need and kind of ditch the ball to him, that was great to have.

"I haven't seen another tight end do the things he can do. It's pretty impressive. He sees things as a quarterback would. He sees things open up before they do. Then you combine that with his body control and his ability to get open, and there's not many guys like him. Really, at the end of the day, he always finds a way to create a throwing lane for you. He uses his body and his route running to get into those positions to give you a throw."

Kelce lines up in a variety of locations. He has been a traditional tight end on about 44% of the plays, a slot receiver on about 32% of the snaps and a wideout about 24% of the time.

He has 28 catches as a slot receiver, 23 as a wide receiver and 17 as a tight end. Kelce is tied for fifth in the league with 27 catches of 15 or more yards. He has six more than the next tight end on the list, Oakland's Darren Waller.

"He's a special player," Chiefs coach Andy Reid said. "We can move him all over the place. He's got a good feel for it."

That's frustrating for opponents, including Oakland coach Jon Gruden. Kelce had 12 catches for 197 yards and a touchdown in two games against the Raiders this season.

"You don't know where [Kelce is] going to be or what route [he's] going to run," Gruden said. "Most guys have a route tree. They run a shallow cross, a deep cross, a corner route, a middle read. [Kelce is] running every route that a slot receiver or a big-time [wide receiver runs]. They're asking Kelce to do some things that are very, very difficult, and he pulls it off. It's maddening to not only our team but, I think, any team that plays the Chiefs."