If Saturday’s game between the Kansas City Chiefs and Houston Texans were a National Geographic documentary, the Chiefs defense would have been a pride of hungry lions and Texans quarterback Brian Hoyer would have been the unsuspecting elderly wildebeest just waiting to get pounced on. The Chiefs defense intercepted Hoyer four times and forced him to fumble without being touched by a defender while the offense turned it up a notch in the second half during their dominating 30-0 win at NRG Stadium.
For the complete box score of the game from NFL.com, click here.
The win broke a 22-year playoff drought for the Chiefs franchise, who hadn’t won a playoff game since Joe Montana led the team to a 28-20 win over the Houston Oilers back on January 16, 1994. The team had lost eight straight postseason games since then, tying the Detroit Lions and Cincinnati Bengals for the longest dry spell in the NFL.
And with the Cincinnati Bengals extending their misery to nine straight losses with an epic meltdown in the last 90 seconds of their eventual 18-16 defeat to the Pittsburgh Steelers late Saturday night, the Chiefs will head to Gillette Stadium in Foxboro, Mass. next Saturday and play the New England Patriots in the divisional round of the playoffs.
But on this Saturday afternoon, it took just 11 seconds for the 2015 Chiefs to give notice that they intended to end that dubious streak on Saturday. Knile Davis took the opening kickoff 106 yards for a touchdown and stunned the capacity crowd of 71,800 fans in attendance. Well, technically it silenced the sixty-some-thousand Houston fans in attendance, but put the large and vocal contingent of red-clad Chiefs fans in the mood to party.
Davis’ return was the second-longest return for a touchdown in postseason history and was the fifth opening kickoff return for a touchdown ever with the last being Devin Hester’s return for the Chicago Bears in Super Bowl XLI.
Buoyed by the early lead, the Chiefs defense gave those in attendance an early taste of what was to come over the next 60 minutes by stopping Houston on their first offensive series for a three-and-out. On the Texans next series, safety Eric Berry intercepted Hoyer on a pass that was five yards from the closest Houston receiver. It was the first of many painful turnovers for Hoyer on the day.
Unfortunately, two plays later, Alex Smith threw his only bad pass of the game by throwing slightly behind receiver Jeremy Maclin, who was well covered over the middle. The ball bounced off Maclin’s hands and into the arms of linebacker Brian Cushing, giving Houston the ball back on their own 17-yard line. The turnover seemed to energize the Houston offense, who mounted their only serious drive of the game, moving into Chiefs territory. But on third-and-seven at the KC 30-yard line, Allen Bailey bulldozed Houston’s left tackle into Hoyer, causing the skittish quarterback to fumble the ball. Dontari Poe fell on the ball and the Chiefs took possession again.
Though fans watching Saturday’s game wouldn’t believe it, the fumble was Hoyer’s second of the game and marked only the second time he had multiple turnovers all season. The other game? It was in Week One against the Chiefs, of course!
The Chiefs struggled to move the ball against a very aggressive and talented Texans defense and settled for a 49-yard Cairo Santos field goal, extending their lead to 10-0 with 12:50 remaining in the second quarter. Another 49-yarder on the Chiefs next series put the Chiefs up 13-0 and the Texans offense had barely registered a pulse by that point.
The Texans got their only feel-good play of the day on their next series when running back Alfred Blue broke through the Chiefs defensive line and then broke several tackles on his way to a 49-yard run before finally getting tackled at the KC 13-yard line. A direct snap to running back Jonathan Grimes in the wildcat formation gained eight yards to the Chiefs five-yard line, and then a three-yard carry by Blue gave the Texans a 1st-and-goal at the two-yard line.
A touchdown here would have given the Texans a huge mental boost because despite the turnovers, the Texans would have been within one score of possibly taking the lead. But this ultimately became the point where Texans head coach, Bill O’Brien, tried to get cute and probably lost the game. The Texans lined up defensive end, J.J. Watt in the backfield in the wildcat, with nose tackle, Vince Wilfork, lining up as the lead run blocker. Linebacker Derrick Johnson easily sniffed out the play and tackled Watt for a one-yard loss back to the three-yard line.
Unfortunately for the Texans, that misguided play was much better than the following snap where Hoyer threw an inexcusable interception to Josh Mauga, who returned the ball 20 yards out to the 22-yard line. However, the Texans defense held tight and the Chiefs were unable to move the ball, losing two yards in three plays and they punted back to Houston with two minutes left in the half. It was fairly obvious that the Chiefs were counting on their defense to hold the struggling Texans.
Sure enough, Hoyer self-destructed again two plays later and threw a pass deep down the right side intended for receiver Nate Washington. However, like most of his throws during the game, Hoyer missed badly and was picked off for the third time in the half, this time by Marcus Peters. At this point, the only sound drowning out the cheers of the Kansas City faithful were the boo’s raining down on Hoyer as he walked off the field. The home crowd started chanting the name of back-up quarterback Brandon Weeden, who had only been with the squad for three weeks.
The half ended with the Chiefs up 13-0 and Brian Hoyer tying Dan Marino’s playoff record of four turnovers in the first two quarters of the game. Things didn’t improve much at all in the second half for Houston as they lost their defensive leader, J.J. Watt, who re-injured his groin. Without Watt, the Chiefs offense suddenly starting moving the ball and added 17 points to the scoreboard – a touchdown pass to Chris Conley, a 5-yard touchdown run by Spencer Ware, and a 33-yard field goal by Santos. Game over ….
Smith ended up completing 17-of-22 passes for 190 yards with one touchdown and the interception by Cushing. Ware gained 67 yards on 16 carries on a day when the Chiefs rushed for 141 yards as a team. Unfortunately, a thrilling tip-toe-down-the-sideline 64-yard scramble by Smith was negated by a holding call on Albert Wilson, otherwise the Chiefs would have run for over 200 yards.
Travis Kelce was the offensive star of the game for Kansas City, catching 8 passes on 10 targets for 128 yards. However, it wasn’t all sunshine and roses for the Chiefs as Jeremy Maclin (3 catches for 29 yards) injured his knee in the third quarter on the same play that ultimately knocked Watt out of the game. Maclin was visibly upset as he lay on the field while trainers checked his knee, slamming his fists into the turf in frustration.
Maclin was taken to the locker room and did not return the game. After the game, the Chiefs said that their top wide receiver had a knee sprain – not an ACL tear – and would get an MRI Sunday in Kansas City. Judging at first glance, it would be highly doubtful that the Chiefs will have Maclin’s services next week against the Patriots, but that remains to be seen until after the MRI is complete.
Defensively, the Chiefs held the Texans to 226 total net yards – which is even more impressive considering they gained 49 of that on Blue’s one carry – and caused five turnovers (4 interceptions and one fumble recovery), with three sacks (2 by Allen Bailey and one by Jaye Howard). Justin Houston made his first appearance on the football field in five weeks and seemed just a little “off”, which is understandable. Tamba Hali played very sparingly as Dee Ford took over for the veteran linebacker whose fragile knees tend to get balky when playing on artificial turf like NRG Stadium has.
Most importantly, the Chiefs shook off the 800-lb gorilla of playoff failure that had been on the team’s back for 22 years and now can look forward to playing the Patriots next Saturday. It’s a safe bet that the Pats legendary future Hall of Fame quarterback won’t look as bad as Hoyer did for the Texans. Then again, the Chiefs sent a bruised and battered Tom Brady to the bench last year during their 41-14 drubbing of the Patriots on Monday Night Football in Week 4 and with all the injuries on the Patriots offensive line and the way KC is playing defense, it might happen again.
Chiefs fans can only hope.