Bucs spoil Justin Houston’s return for Chiefs

Justin Houston: 'We didn't do a good job rushing the quarterback'

Chiefs outside linebacker Justin Houston said it felt great to play his first game of the season in 19-17 loss to Bucs on Sunday, Nov. 20, 2016.
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Chiefs outside linebacker Justin Houston said it felt great to play his first game of the season in 19-17 loss to Bucs on Sunday, Nov. 20, 2016.

Everything about his return to action felt good to Justin Houston right up until the end when he trudged off the field on the losing side of a 19-17 outcome to the Tampa Bay Bucs.

“Knocked off some rust in the first half, but felt pretty good,” Houston said. “It would have been better if we could have come out with a victory.”

Instead, the Chiefs, 7-3, snapped a five-game winning streak and dropped a game behind the Oakland Raiders in the loss AFC West loss column. The Raiders play the Houston Texans on Monday night in Mexico City.

Houston’s return was long anticipated. He injured his knee last season, missing the final five regular season games. He played in both postseason games, but surgery in February to repair his left knee kept him out of game action until now.

Houston, the four-time Pro Bowl selection and All-Pro honoree in 2014 after his 22 sack season, was the final player introduced with the defense on Sunday, earning the loudest round of cheers from the Arrowhead Stadium crowd.

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He started the game and appeared to move well, playing the first two series but not the third as part of an outside linebacker rotation. Houston was his old self, roaming around the position, looking to create matchup advantages. For the game, he was credited with two tackles, one of the Chiefs’ six tackles for loss and a quarterback hurry.

Houston opened the game on the left side with Dee Ford, who has played there throughout the season, on the right. Ford entered the game with 10 sacks but left early with a hamstring injuury.

The defense had trouble containing quarterback Jameis Winston and the Bucs offense. Tampa Bay rolled to 442 total yards, collected 27 first downs and held the ball for more than 35 minutes. Winson was sacked once, and it was credited to the team.

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The Chiefs succeeded in keeping the Bucs out of the end zone until the fourth quarter, holding them to four field goals and keeping the game close, but the Chiefs’ defensive failure on third down was a big part of the game.

“We didn’t do a good job rushing the quarterback,” Houston cited as a reason Tampa converted 11 of 16 third downs. “He had plenty of time in the pocket. We didn’t get in the pocket at all, no penetration. We have to do better.”

It was more than that. The Chiefs couldn’t get out of blocks. Often the Bucs had success on first and second downs, creating third and short situations.

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And Winston’s ability to move — not just scramble but shift his feet to avoid pressure — helped him immensely. Winston completed 24 of 39 for 331 yards, and the Bucs’ lone touchdown was his 3-yard pass to Alan Cross.

Winston’s biggest third-down conversion was his last. The Chiefs cut the deficit to two, and the Bucs had to pick up three yards from their 30 or punt it back with two minutes remaining.

“I wish you guys could have been in the huddle,” Winston said. “I stepped in and said, ‘Guys, let’s calm down, let’s finish. We’ve got this.’ And we did.”

Spoiling Houston’s return.

Blair Kerkhoff: 816-234-4730, @BlairKerkhoff