As the Patriots' offensive struggles carried on throughout an early postseason exit, replacing Rob Gronkowski was an impossibility for New England.
However, for the Chiefs and 49ers, who oppose each other in Super Bowl LIV, there will be no absence of a premier tight end as Kansas City's Travis Kelce and San Francisco's George Kittle check in as the best in the game today -- with their individual accolades putting them among the greats of all-time.
"I think we're both positive guys," Kelce told reporters on Friday, via team transcript. "We both love to play the game and at the same time we both love life. With that comes a lot of responsibility in the tight end room, to not just be a one-dimensional player but be a utility guy in the locker room or do whatever the team needs. That's what we're capable of doing. In terms of similarities, I do believe the run after catch is something, I've been able to have a knack since I have been in the league. Obviously, since Kittle has been in the league, he's taken that to a whole other level."
It's the initial Super Bowl meeting between the All-Pro first-team tight end (Kittle) and the All-Pro second-teamer (Kelce) in that particular season, as well as the first Super Bowl featuring non-wide receivers on each team to have tallied 1,000-yard seasons, according to the good folks at NFL Research.
"Definitely mutual fan society," Kittle told reporters on Friday, via team transcript. "I've been a fan of Travis Kelce since he's been in the league. Watched his tape when I was in college. Watch his tape now. I get his games every single week so I can watch what he does. He's definitely one of the best in the game at what he does, receiving, just finding open spots. I got to meet Travis last year when we played him at the Chiefs. Had a jersey exchange after the season and then I met him again in Atlanta during the Super Bowl. So we definitely know each other. He's awesome. It's going to be really fun to share a field with him again."
Considering what they've done, it will also be historic seeing them share the field.
For five consecutive seasons, the 30-year-old Kelce has been a Pro Bowl selection and in each of the last four, he's surpassed 1,000 yards. While generational signal-caller Patrick Mahomes' dazzling days extend back only two seasons as a starter and Tyreek Hill, leading the way in the Chiefs' speedy receiving contingent, has four phenomenal campaigns to his career, Kelce is the elder statesman in what's become the NFL's most vaunted offense.
Kittle, 26, is a noted pro wrestling fan who plays with all the flare and brute force of a superstar in the squared circle. Regarded for his zeal in the run-blocking game and his Ditka-esque rumbles downfield after the catch, Kittle has earned Pro Bowl trips in each of the last two seasons. His 2018 campaign was a record-breaking announcement of a new talent on the rise. Kittle hauled in a tight end single-season record 1,377 yards. It was a record he wrestled away from Kelce, who had briefly held it earlier in the afternoon of Week 17.
Across these last two seasons, Kelce (2,565 yards) and Kittle (2,430) have the most and second-most receiving yards for a tight end over a two-year span, respectively.
For Kittle, it's seen him produce the greatest three-year start for a tight end with 2,945 yards, surpassing the likes of Mike Ditka (2,774) and Gronkowski (2,663), while Kelce (6,465) has emerged with the greatest total for a tight end over the initial seven seasons of a career.
For all the speed and explosiveness in the Chiefs receiving corps, Kelce's 152 targets, 110 receptions and 1,393 yards are the team-highs.
Now the two will look to lead their teams on the world of sports' grandest stage, though it's one in which tight ends have struggled to command the spotlight.
With the exception of Gronk, tight ends have arguably been overlooked entities in the Super Bowl's illustrious chronicle. That's not the case this time around, though.
When the dust settles and the confetti falls, Kittle or Kelce will become the fifth tight end to win a Super Bowl in a 1,000-plus receiving yard season.
Nonetheless, as the two enter the final days until the most important game of their careers, it's clear that they have carved their places in history with their production, gained added notoriety with their personalities and established themselves as stars of the game -- including the biggest one of the season.