A week ago, Justin Houston’s presence felt like an accomplishment, just getting back on the field for the Chiefs.
Sunday against the Broncos, he made his presence felt.
Houston, in his second game of the season, turned in one of the most productive of his career, logging three sacks, another tackle for loss, and was a menace most of the evening in the Chiefs’ 30-27 overtime victory over the Broncos
He even delivered points when his sack produced a safety in the second quarter to open the game’s scoring.
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Houston, who had knee surgery to repair an ACL in February, returned to action last week for the first time this season when the Chiefs met the Tampa Bay Bucs in Arrowhead Stadium, but Sunday felt different.
“Last week was like a preseason game,” Houston said. “I had to knock some rust off.”
The rust was removed in a 10-tackle performance which included four tackles for loss and pass defended.
The safety was vintage Houston. On third-and-8, Houston, rushing from the right side, sliced through the Broncos’ offensive line and spun down quarterback Trevor Siemian in the end zone.
Siemian lost control of the ball, but Denver recovered the fumble in the end zone.
“It was something we’d studied all week,” Houston said. “Tamba (Hali) and I were on one side. It’s how we planned it and it worked the way we planned it.”
The Chiefs immediately added to their bounty when speedster Tyreek Hill returned the ensuing free kick 86 yards for a touchdown and a 9-0 lead.
Houston was superb from outset. The game’s first series ended when Houston dropped running back Devontae Booker for no gain on a third-and-1.
The first sack occurred on the Broncos’ second series, when Houston dropped Siemian for a 4-yard loss.
In the second quarter, Houston’s next sack came two plays after Kendall Reyes got to Siemian for his first sack in a Chiefs’ uniform.
Houston ran his career sack total to 59 and Sunday marked his seventh game with at least three sacks. His career best is 4.5 at Philadelphia in 2013.
Houston missed the Chiefs’ first eight games. The return was one threshold crossed. Sunday’s performance was the next.
“I’ve been so hungry,” Houston said. “It was a long process and through the process I grew spiritually. I saw this coming months ago. I worked hard and I had faith and I believed.
“When you have those three things, nothing can stop you.”
The Chiefs needed Houston on Sunday. Dee Ford, who had emerged as the team’s top pass rusher with 10 sacks, was inactive against the Broncos with a hamstring injury.
Also Sunday, the Chiefs lost nose tackle Dontari Poe with a back injury in the first half, leaving the Chiefs short-handed in the middle. Reyes, Rakeem Nunez-Roches, Jarvis Jenkins rotated on the defensive interior.
Houston left Sunday’s game late in the first half with a shoulder injury. He walked to the locker room but returned to the line during the Broncos’ final possession of the half. It didn’t seem a coincidence that the Broncos’ first drive of the evening got its momentum with Houston off the field.
It also didn’t come as a surprise to Houston that the Chiefs mounted comebacks in the fourth quarter and in the overtime for the victory.
“The guys that step on the field show so much heart,” Houston said. “When the situation comes down to it, they always keep playing like they did a few weeks ago when we played against the Panthers. I wasn’t around then, but no matter how much time is on the clock, our guys are going to keep playing.”