While Tyreek Hill sped upfield, pumping his body toward the end zone at warp speed for a potentially momentum-turning score, the yellow flag flew through the air, standing out on the plush green carpet at NRG Stadium like a sore thumb.
Holding penalty on the Chiefs. It’s coming back.
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In a 19-12 loss to the Houston Texans on Sunday before an announced crowd of 71,890 at NRG Stadium, a game in which the Chiefs could not seem to get out of their own way — they fumbled the ball away three times and committed nine penalties for 77 yards — there was no chance Hill’s kick return, which would have presumably cut a 10-point deficit to only three with three minutes left, was going to stand.
And while the Chiefs’ largely-dormant offense still managed to put together a 10-play, 76-yard scoring drive, it was also fitting that they had to settle for a field goal due to back-to-back false start penalties by tackles Mitch Schwartz and Eric Fisher that turned a second-and-10 at the Houston 15 to a difficult second-and-20 against a fearsome pass-rush.
By the end, it felt like the Chiefs had just played the patented “No-Way Game” on Madden. The one where the computer tortures you with fumbles and drops — even star receiver Jeremy Maclin had two drops, more than he had all of 2015 — and penalties and refuses to let you finish the regular season 16-0.
But in real life, when that happens, head coaches have to explain it away, somehow, and Chiefs coach Andy Reid used a question about injured running back Jamaal Charles, and whether his presence was missed Sunday, to do so.
“We’ve got to play better football,” Reid said. “(His absence) didn’t cause three turnovers and nine penalties. That wasn’t due to Jamaal. You know, we take care of those things and we’re a pretty good football team.”
Meanwhile, the Texans — who did not forget their 30-0 defeat at the hands of the Chiefs in the Wild Card Game in January and improved to 2-0 — were not afraid to state their hopes that the win proves just that.
“It shows a lot of progress that we’ve made,” outside linebacker Whitney Mercilus said.
Especially on offense. In the Chiefs’ embarrassing rout eight months ago, quarterback Brian Hoyer committed five turnovers. So the Texans signed a new quarterback, strong-armed gunslinger Brock Osweiler, and a new running back, stocky zone-runner Lamar Miller.
And while Miller was kept in check by the Chiefs — he rushed 25 times for a middling 3.3 yards per carry against a team that allowed 4.8 yards per carry in Week 1 — Osweiler and the passing game helped make the difference.
Osweiler completed 19 of 33 passes for 268 yards and a touchdown. He was intercepted twice by Marcus Peters — who had a rollercoaster of a game, himself — but he routinely stretched the field with the deep ball and made enough throws to star wideout DeAndre Hopkins, who caught seven passes for 113 yards and touchdown, and rookie Will Fuller, who caught four passes for 104 yards, to keep the Chiefs honest.
“Even though he made some mistakes, he still threw the deep routes, and he threw the intermediate routes, as well,” safety Eric Berry said. “Just having that confidence at the quarterback position, it changed their offense.”
Osweiler got the Texans on the board first in the first quarter, following a bobbled snap between quarterback Alex Smith and center Mitch Morse that gave Houston the ball at the Chiefs’ 27-yard line, as Osweiler found Hopkins on a fade near the sideline for a touchdown.
The teams swapped with a field goal, and after another blunder by the Chiefs — a rare fumble by Spencer Ware — the Texans tackled on another field goal to make the score 13-3 with 1 minute, 15 seconds left in the first half.
That was enough time to cut into the lead, but Chiefs, true to form on this day, committed their third turnover of the half as Smith was strip-sacked by John Simon to essentially end the half.
“Just absolutely zero rhythm and production going in that first half,” Smith said. “It was not good enough.”
And it did not get better in the third quarter, either. While the Chiefs’ offense continued to slog — they recorded one first down in four possessions in the third quarter — the defense kept them in the game, as the Texans only converted 27 percent of their third-down attempts, something that Hopkins attributed to the Chiefs’ effective blitz schemes.
The defense also set up their a score, as Peters picked off his second pass of the day off a deflection, which gave the Chiefs the ball near midfield. Chiefs kicker Cairo Santos drilled another field goal — he finished with four — to cut the Texans’ lead to 13-6.
The teams traded field goals early in the fourth quarter, and after another Texans field goal, which made the score 19-9, Hill broke off his return, which was nullified.
The Chiefs put together a nice — but penalty-plagued — drive, finally moving the ball by operating out of the no-huddle they used while mounting a 21-point comeback in Week 1 against San Diego. Reid noted after the game that he didn’t go to it earlier because it puts the defense in a bind and Smith agreed they need to get their base offense rolling.
“Even when we’re huddling and going, we’ve got to get it rolling,” Smith said.
Much of that starts with Smith, who completed only 20 of 37 passes for 186 yards. He was sacked four times and seemed to hesitant to throw. All of this only seven days after the game of his career, in which he completed 34 of 48 passes and was the hero of the biggest comeback win in team history.
Football is funny that way. Sometimes the bounces go your way, sometimes they don’t. But few would argue that on Sunday, the Chiefs, 1-1, were their own biggest enemies, thanks to lack of ball-security and discipline.
“We take care of those things,” Reid said. “And we’re a pretty good football team.”