SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. — Wearing the AFC championship baseball cap he had just been given, Marquez Valdes-Scantling kneeled on the Arrowhead Stadium field in the moments after the Kansas City Chiefs beat the Cincinnati Bengals in the AFC Championship Game.
Suddenly, Valdes-Scantling stood up, waved the towel he was carrying and shouted, “I’m going to the Super Bowl.”
That is due in no small part to Valdes-Scantling, who came up big for the Chiefs when they needed him most. With four of the Chiefs’ top six wide receivers sidelined with injury or illness, Valdes-Scantling had a season-high 116 receiving yards and also caught a touchdown pass from Patrick Mahomes in the 23-20 win that sent the Chiefs on to the Super Bowl LVII against the Philadelphia Eagles (6:30 p.m. ET, Fox).
The Chiefs are expecting three of the receivers they lost against the Bengals — JuJu Smith-Schuster, Kadarius Toney and Justin Watson — back for the Super Bowl. The fourth, Mecole Hardman, is unlikely to play.
Now they know Valdes-Scantling can deliver in the clutch if they have another problem with injuries against the Eagles.
“Not really any secret sauce,” Valdes-Scantling said of his big game. “The ball went up and I made the plays.
“We’re an offense that anyone can be in that position any week. Sometimes it’s going to be me, sometimes it’s going to be another guy. That’s the beauty of what we do. It’s not just going to be [the same] guy every week, and I think that’s what’s going to have our success be really good.”
Valdes-Scantling had an uneven season, his first after joining the Chiefs as a free agent from the Green Bay Packers. Despite playing in all 17 regular-season games, Valdes-Scantling was only fourth on the Chiefs in receptions with 42, including just two touchdowns. He had two games with no catches and seven others with either one or two. He caught just 52.5% of the passes where he was the intended receiver, leaving him 129th out of 130 qualified NFL receivers.
But he delivered plenty of big plays. Valdes-Scantling averaged 16.4 yards per catch, fourth in the league.
Valdes-Scantling has always been less of a high-volume receiver and more of a game-breaker. His 42 catches were more than he had in any of his four seasons with the Packers.
“He can do everything,” wide receivers coach Joe Bleymaier said. “He’s a well-rounded receiver. We ask him to do a lot of vertical routes with a number of the complementary skill players that we have. He’s got hidden yardage out there that maybe the ball hasn’t found him, but he was running routes, not just vertical routes, where he was open and he could’ve got some yardage.”
Valdes-Scantling was one of the Chiefs’ two main additions this season at wide receiver, with Smith-Schuster being the other. Each was a nice complement to the other. Smith-Schuster caught 78 passes and 76% of his targets, but averaged 12 yards per catch.
“He’s had some huge catches for us and at timely times of a game, just big, big plays,” coach Andy Reid said of Valdes-Scantling. “Thesis [catches] weren’t easy. He made some really nice grabs.
“We’re different than Green Bay, it’s a different system than Green Bay. He’s another one of those guys that’s adapted and [has] done it with a smile on his face. It’s not something like you’re pulling teeth with him. He’s done a real nice job of accepting all the newness of the offense.”
Among his better catches against the Bengals, he caught a 29-yard pass on the Chiefs’ first touchdown drive. He was expecting Mahomes to throw the ball to the middle of the field but it was delivered towards the sideline, so he made a full spin before making the catch.
On his 19-yard touchdown catch later in the game, cornerback Mike Hilton flashed in front of him as the ball was arriving and almost got his hand on the pass. That forced Valdes-Scantling to focus on making the catch.
“I felt like there were throws I made that weren’t necessarily the perfect, perfect passes and he was able to make plays happen,” Mahomes said. “When he was kind of that last guy out there, he was helping other guys get in the right position. That’s a testament to him studying the game plan and knowing the entire concept of the game plan, not just his routes.”
The Bengals game was the third conference championship contest of Valdes-Scantling’s career. He’d lost the first two, both with the Packers, so his post-game celebration was understandable, particularly in light of what he had contributed.
“It was a little chaotic,” Valdes-Scantling said. “You never want to see [four] guys go down at the same position. There were just three of us and we had to make it work and we did.”