Chiefs turning to rookie receiver Rashee Rice in big moments

KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- The Kansas City Chiefs needed a big play in the fourth quarter of last week's game when they faced a third-and-6 while holding a four-point lead over the Las Vegas Raiders.

They turned not to Travis Kelce or any of their other veteran receivers, but to the rookie who is increasingly on the receiving end of Patrick Mahomes' passes in crucial and routine situations. Rashee Rice got open on a shallow crossing route, made the catch and ran the rest of the way for the 39-yard touchdown that gave the Chiefs a comfortable lead for the first time in the game.

"I think they've shown a lot more confidence in me, but I kind of feel like ... that's starting in practice," Rice said. "It doesn't just start with me making big plays in the game. It starts with me running that same shallow in practice full speed and giving a game-rep look so that he can trust me on game day.

"They didn't pick me up just to be a part of the team. They wanted me to contribute."

Rice has delivered for the Chiefs most of the season but had his breakout game in Las Vegas with eight catches, 107 yards and the touchdown. He was the first Chiefs wide receiver with 100 yards in the past 20 regular-season games and the first rookie to do it since Dwayne Bowe in 2007.

Combined with what Rice had done earlier in the season -- he was already his team's leading wide receiver -- the Chiefs might have a viable No. 1 wide receiver. With the way the Chiefs have been going to Rice in big situations, even before the Raiders game, they seem to think he's there already.

"He has the talent," Mahomes said after the Raiders game. "He works hard and we're giving him more and more as the season goes on.

"You saw today some of those coverages where they were doubling [Kelce] or putting a lot of attention on Trav, he was able to make some stuff happen like on that shallow cross. He's a guy who wants it. I think that's the biggest thing. He wants to be great. But it's going to take us staying on top of it every single week and he's going to be a great receiver in this league."

Coach Andy Reid said the Chiefs have worked with Rice to get him, in Reid's words, "more Patrick-friendly," or trying to fit his game into the offensive structure and how Mahomes sees things.

Rice has done that well enough to lead all wide receivers in yards after the catch at 8.2.

"He's done a nice job of being open, listening and deciphering what defenses work with what routes and how to manipulate that," Reid said. "When we're doing special teams and he's not in there, he goes over and works with Pat. They talk through things, then they run routes [and Mahomes says] 'This is the look where I'm seeing you on this route against this coverage.' They spend time with each other there and then off the field, likewise. In meetings they keep an open communication there, so it's something that is needed, especially with a young receiver.

"He's getting better every week. He's getting a little bit more production, yes, but also a few more plays and opportunities to get in the game."

One area where the Chiefs need improvement from Rice is in catching the ball. He has dropped 7.1% of the passes thrown his way, which is fifth worst in the league. But Rice has usually come back later to make a catch.

Otherwise, the Chiefs have seen steady improvement from Rice to the point they're going to him in big moments. In Week 9 against the Miami Dolphins, the Chiefs on the first drive of the game had a touchdown overturned after a video review.

They went to Rice with a screen pass on the next play and he scored.

Then there was the touchdown in Las Vegas last week. Offensive coordinator Matt Nagy said the Chiefs wouldn't necessarily have been comfortable using Rice in such a big situation earlier in the season.

Rice's rapid growth has the Chiefs pleased about what he's providing this season, and also looking forward to what he can deliver next year and beyond.

"I think we've only scratched the surface, honestly," Mahomes said. "You see us hitting him kind of around the line of scrimmage, but ... I think he can do some of the vertical threat stuff and he has speed and he has burst. You see him when he has the football in his hands.

"I think he has a chance to be a great receiver in this league, and we're going to continue to push him to be that receiver every single week."