Gardner didn’t hesitate.
He didn’t pause.
Yes, the Jets’ standout cornerback is eager to face Chiefs star tight end Travis Kelce.
“I always want to go against the best, no matter what position,” Gardner told The Washington Post after Friday’s practice. “Best team, best receivers, best tight ends. Whoever it is.”
While cornerbacks don’t typically guard tight ends, Kelce is no ordinary tight end.
He’s a game-changer, the go-to weapon for superstar quarterback Patrick Mahomes, an eight-time Pro Bowler and one of the best receiving tight ends in the history of the game.
And, as was the case last year when the Jets faced the Ravens and Mark Andrews, Gardner expects he’ll be available against Kelce at some point Sunday night as the Jets look to snap a two-game losing streak.
“I do hope so,” he said. “I feel like I’m a good match for him. It’s just me. I know myself.”
When asked what makes Kelce so difficult to defend, Gardner pointed to his connection with Mahomes and the trust they have in each other.
“You have to be ready to defend Game 2 [when Mahomes goes off script],” Gardner said. “There are always emergencies on his route. “
Jets head coach Robert Saleh was noncommittal about the team’s plans for Kelce, saying: “Everything is on the table.”
Unlike last year’s Ravens team, the Chiefs also have some dangerous receivers, which makes it complicated.
Despite missing the regular season opener, Kelce still leads Kansas City in receptions (11) and remains Mahomes’ No. 1 target.
He had seven catches for 69 yards and a touchdown in last week’s win over the Bears, and this season he has caught 110 passes for 1,338 yards and 12 touchdowns, a career high.
Gardner, the league’s Defensive Rookie of the Year and a first-team All-Pro selection last year, is off to an unspectacular but solid start so far.
He’s still looking for his first interception.
He didn’t need to lobby the coaching staff to get Kelce’s spot.
“They know me, they know what I like to do,” he said. “They have a good feel for who I am.”
As a University of Cincinnati alumnus, Kelce and Gardner have a history.
They are familiar with each other and have been in touch during the offseason in the past.
Then, Kelce added another layer to his new relationship with singer Taylor Swift, who is expected to attend MetLife Stadium.
It puts Kelce in the national spotlight and will add eyeballs to the sport.
The Jets clearly wanted to prevent the two from celebrating another big game together, but Gardner’s focus was on himself and his team.
“This has nothing to do with me,” he said. “Trav and I rock together. He went to Cal, Cal alum. We’re going to compete between the white lines.”
Gardner added: “I just want to play my game. Play my game and that’s enough.”
Gardner said he didn’t think he could learn much from his experience guarding Andrews last year because Kelce wasn’t used in the same way.
In that game, he helped limit Andrews to 52 catches.
Gardner is excited about the opportunity on such a big stage. It was also the first Sunday night game of his young career.
“I’m looking forward to it,” he said. “I’ve never been to ‘Sunday Night Football.’ I’m always excited about those prime-time games.” “