LAS VEGAS — Kadarius Toney knew he was back in the spotlight. He dressed accordingly, too — designer sunglasses, diamond earrings in the shape of a cross and a shiny gold chain.
Still, the mercurial Kansas City Chiefs receiver tried to be low-key during Super Bowl opening night Monday at Allegiant Stadium. When speaking with several reporters, Toney often bowed his head and didn’t raise his voice. Toney expressed — over and over again — that he wanted to remain humble, have the correct mindset and stay motivated to help the Chiefs accomplish a feat that hasn’t been achieved in two decades: a reigning champion defending its crown.
Toney, though, did want to reiterate part of his last public message, the one he shared with everyone nine days ago through his Instagram account.
“Yeah, I’m good,” Toney said of his health, declaring himself available to play in Sunday’s game against the San Francisco 49ers.
The question looming over Toney, of course, is this: Will coach Andy Reid let him play in the season’s most important game?
“I’m doing everything I can to show that I’m an asset,” said Toney, who hasn’t played since Dec. 17 when the Chiefs beat the New England Patriots. “At the end of the day, it’s not my call. I’m just here.”
Just hours before the Chiefs played the Baltimore Ravens in the AFC Championship Game, in a rant on Instagram Live, Toney expressed that he didn’t have hip or ankle injuries that the Chiefs listed him with. The day before the game, the Chiefs listed Toney as out because of personal reasons and a hip injury.
“I’m not hurt, none of that s—!” Toney shouted on Instagram Live.
The next day, Reid said the Chiefs didn’t make up any Toney injury reports.
On Monday night, Toney said he believed someone edited the audio to make his comments appear more negative toward the Chiefs instead of presenting his comments in full.
“What y’all heard was basically me talking about the (New York Giants) fan that was in my comments,” Toney said. “It wasn’t me talking about the Chiefs. I wasn’t talking about anybody from the Chiefs organization. All I said was what they put out (on the injury report) was cap. I was not hurt.
“But … I’m past that right now. I’m focused on trying to win and double back.”
In an interview with Michael Robinson, Chiefs WR Kadarius Toney explains his bizarre Instagram Live video, which went up on the day of the AFC Championship Game. pic.twitter.com/vuLvDpujnm
— Awful Announcing (@awfulannouncing) February 6, 2024
In a short interview with Michael Robinson, NFL Network analyst and a former NFL fullback, Toney acknowledged that he regretted his decision to argue with the fan who irritated him.
“I shouldn’t have (done) that,” Toney told Robinson. “I’m a man. I can accept my mistakes just like I accept my wins. I’m just moving past that.”
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Toney wasn’t with his teammates in Baltimore when the Chiefs defeated the Ravens. Instead, he stayed in Kansas City to be with his partner, who gave birth to their first child, a daughter.
“It was great, before it was put into the world,” Toney said. “I feel like that was my choice, if I wanted to put that out there. It’s a great experience, with what I’ve got going on. I love my daughter. I love my soon-to-be wife.”
Since the conference title game, Toney hasn’t been on the Chiefs’ injury report. He was a full participant in the two practices before Sunday when the team arrived in Las Vegas.
“I thought he looked good,” offensive coordinator Matt Nagy said last week. “For us, it’s a day-by-day thing for him and where he’s at. He did (well). We want to be able to see in practice and see how (players are) doing individually and then how they fit within the scheme.”
— Aaron Ladd (@aaronladdtv) February 1, 2024
Toney knows the Super Bowl is his last opportunity to have a redemptive moment in a season marked by failures. Toney entered training camp as the Chiefs’ projected No. 1 wide receiver. But minutes into the opening practice, he damaged the meniscus in his knee, an injury that required surgery and forced him to miss camp and the preseason.
Quarterback Patrick Mahomes targeted Toney five times in the Chiefs’ season-opening loss, which tied for the team high. But Toney’s performance was disastrous. He dropped four catchable passes, including one that went through his hands and directly to Lions rookie safety Brian Branch, who returned the interception 50 yards for a touchdown.
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In a loss to the Buffalo Bills, Toney committed an offside penalty that cost the Chiefs a go-ahead touchdown and nullified a viral highlight when tight end Travis Kelce caught an intermediate pass from Mahomes, evaded two defenders, then threw a perfect lateral across the field to a wide-open Toney.
“It’s football,” Toney said. “Nobody is perfect.”
In the following game against the Patriots, the Chiefs had a commanding 17-point lead and had the ball in the fourth quarter. Mahomes told his teammates in the huddle to protect the ball. The first play of the drive ended in an interception when a short pass to Toney bounced off his hands and into those of linebacker Jahlani Tavai.
Mahomes stormed off the field and to the Chiefs’ sideline. When he sat down on the bench, he screamed loud enough for all of his teammates to hear him.
“I just f—— said it, man!” Mahomes said. “God—-it!”
This was Patrick Mahomes’ reaction after Kadarius Toney dropped a pass that ended up being picked off by the Patriots. pic.twitter.com/lYA3DqB02H
— FOX Sports: NFL (@NFLonFOX) December 17, 2023
After the game, Toney walked off the field, shoulders slumped and head bowed, alongside Kelce, who tried to encourage him.
“I want him to know (there’s) always love in this building,” Kelce said of Toney last week. “I know guys go through things, both in this building and in their personal lives. He just had a beautiful baby girl. What’s real is what happens in this building and how we can channel that. I just wanted to make sure he knew that we were all still behind him and ready to go get this Super Bowl.”
Reid is considered a players’ coach, one who is not afraid to give his players a second opportunity — or even a third chance — if he believes that player could help the team in the next game.
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If Toney is in uniform against the 49ers, his biggest role could be as the Chiefs’ punt returner. Special teams coordinator Dave Toub acknowledged last week that the Chiefs expect to use six receivers and that Toney could earn the last spot.
The greatest highlight of Toney’s three-year career came a year ago in Super Bowl LVII. He produced the longest punt return in Super Bowl history, a dazzling 65-yard gain. He also scored a pivotal touchdown in the second half of the Chiefs’ comeback victory over the Philadelphia Eagles.
“Honestly, I try to not reflect on old stuff,” Toney said. “At the end of the day, that was last year. I just try to remain the player I can be at all times, regardless of what anybody says. (I’m taking) a humbled approach. Whenever my opportunity comes, I’m going to be there.”
How did Toney break out of this?!
— NFL (@NFL) February 13, 2023
If the Chiefs don’t plan to play him, perhaps Toney’s role in practice this week will be to resemble the playing style of Deebo Samuel, the 49ers’ dynamic receiver, as part of the Chiefs’ scout team to better prepare the team’s defensive starters.
Toney vowed Monday night to do anything he could to help the Chiefs win the final game of their season.
“It would really mean a lot,” Toney said of earning a second Super Bowl ring. “I’m not going to lie. We’re blessed to be here. We’ve got a goal to accomplish and we’re not really trying to let anybody stop us. We’re just staying focused and humbled right now and putting in the work.
“I’m just here right now in the moment. … I’m not thinking about anything else.”
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(Photo: Scott Winters / Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)