The Chiefs won a playoff game!
The last time this happened, of course, was also in Houston but there was no insta-reaction back then, mostly because there was effectively no Internet. The Chiefs won because they had the better team, the better quarterback (by a looooooong shot) and the better coach.
They won because of their defense and because they overcame a 1-5 start to get here and sucked out the clock once they got the lead and, maybe at least in part, because the football gods were tired of playing cruel jokes on the Chiefs in the playoffs.
They will play next weekend in the AFC divisional round Sunday at Denver (if the Bengals beat the Steelers tonight) or Saturday at New England (if the Steelers beat the Bengals).
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This was already perhaps the best time in the history of Kansas City to be a fan of professional sports, and the Chiefs’ first playoff win in 22 years just continues the civic winning streak.
What follows, then, are random, hopefully-not-rambling thoughts, electronically scribbled throughout the Chiefs’ 30-0 win over the Texans here Saturday, but please check back soon for a more coherent look at what happened, what it means, and what’s next:
▪ The drive that all but sealed the game started on the Chiefs’ own 6, included a very long Alex Smith run called back on a questionable penalty, injuries to both Jeremy Maclin and J.J. Watt on the same play, and a terrific throw and catch for a touchdown to Chris Conley. The drive was, basically, everything for the Chiefs. Good blocking, good execution, the ol’ foot-on-the-throat thing that they’ve not always displayed this season.
▪ We don’t know the extent of Maclin’s injury, obviously, but it was a bad look. Carted off after being on the turf for a while. We were having this discussion the other day, a few of us, and I thought Maclin was the team’s MVP this year. Not just the production, and not just the dynamic play-making he brought that the team lacked for so long, but there was a real attitude along with it. A toughness. I also wonder how much of the Chiefs’ being able to hold together after 1-5 had to do with Maclin’s confidence in the coaching staff. That’s all speculation, of course.
▪ If Maclin is out for the next game, it’s a something less than a deal-breaker but something more than merely significant. The dropoff from him to Albert Wilson is enormous, and his absence means the defense can focus more on Travis Kelce and the running game. At least, that’s what logic says. Logic also said the Chiefs were done like dinner after Jamaal Charles went down, so, you know, whatever.
▪ The Chiefs can beat either of their potential next opponents. That’s a different thing than saying they will beat them, or even that I’ll pick it (like that matters even a little), but it’s all there. They’ve already beaten the Broncos, in Denver, and should’ve beat them in Kansas City. This is presumably the best (or, at least, healthiest) Peyton Manning will be, with two weeks off, but it’s impossible to feel good about where he is physically.
The Patriots have history, and experience, and the coach, quarterback and tight end are fairly decent. But they’ve had so many injuries, and particularly with all the offensive lines they’ve had to use this year, I’m not sure how well they can protect Brady. Winning a playoff game at Gillette is obviously difficult, but it’s been done.
If given the choice, I guess you’d rather play Denver, but I think a lot of that is just the name brand recognition of the Patriots, and Belichick. Either game is winnable.
▪ Brian Hoyer. Yikes.
▪ Knile Davis went untouched on his opening kickoff return for a touchdown and, more than that, wasn’t closer than 3 yards to any Texans tackler after about the 10. Spencer Ware had a great block. Luxurious hole through the left side. The Chiefs had given fans some reason to be concerned about their special teams in recent weeks, but, well, that disappeared quite quickly.
▪ Albert Wilson broke open on a post route in the first quarter, a play that should’ve been a relatively easy touchdown. Alex Smith overthrew the ball, or at least didn’t put enough loft on it, but Wilson — and this has happened repeatedly this season — didn’t lay out.
▪ Brian Hoyer. Woof.
▪ Smith deserved his first-quarter interception. The ball was thrown late, or behind Jeremy Maclin, enough that the receiver had to turn his body to try to make the catch. It deflected, and Brian Cushing made a nice reaction for the interception. Avoiding mistakes like that is part of what usually makes Smith good.
▪ Brian Hoyer’s arm was not touched on his first quarter fumble. He’d had a decent season, but jeez.
▪ Thing is, that probably was not Hoyer’s worst play. So many to choose from. We can start with that interception at the goal line, though. That stunk like old garbage. Into double coverage and late.
▪ Texans’ offense is not good anyway, but the plan didn’t help. Not enough to Hopkins, not even pass protection, not even anything.
▪ Was surprised the Chiefs didn’t double DeAndre Hopkins, was shocked they didn’t give more safety help his way.
▪ Brian Hoyer. Ouch.
▪ The Texans had first and goal, with Steven Nelson covering DeAndre Hopkins one-on-one. They got zero points out of this arrangement.
▪ The Chiefs did a very good job on Houston’s other star. The Chiefs chipped, doubled, and went away from J.J. Watt for much of the day. Watt may have been less than complete physically, but if so the Texans still used him in a bizarre Wildcat formation near the goal line. On one play, Eric Fisher handled him one-on-one.
▪ Marcus Peters had trouble with DeAndre Hopkins. He’s in good company, of course, because everyone has trouble with DeAndre Hopkins. But I do think it’s a reminder of the difference between a guy who is going to be a great cornerback, and one who already is a great cornerback. It’ll be fun watching him continue to develop.