Justin Houston’s return bolsters Chiefs in win over Cardinals ahead of trip to Mexico

Mahomes sets touchdown passing record in Chiefs win against Cardinals

Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes set a new touchdown passing record for the Chiefs in the teams 26-14 win against the Arizona Cardinals at Arrowhead Stadium on Sunday November 11, 2018.
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Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes set a new touchdown passing record for the Chiefs in the teams 26-14 win against the Arizona Cardinals at Arrowhead Stadium on Sunday November 11, 2018.

Justin Houston kept his eyes locked on Arizona Cardinals quarterback Josh Rosen.

When Rosen turned to his left to hit running back David Johnson with 12 minutes to go in the fourth quarter, the veteran pass rusher jumped up and snagged the ball out of the air.

Four plays later, Chiefs running back Spencer Ware burst into the end zone for his first touchdown of the season, giving the Chiefs a two-score lead against a pesky Cardinals team.

Active for the first time in a month, Houston made the most of his return to the field with the fourth-quarter interception — one of the most crucial plays in the Chiefs’ 26-14 win.

“That was a critical situation,” Chiefs defensive end Chris Jones said of Houston’s interception. “We needed that. Offense got a chance to punch it in the end zone. That changed the dynamic of the game.”

So many times this season, the Chiefs’ explosive offense has picked up the slack from a porous defense. Sunday afternoon, though, the defense did the heavy lifting late in the game to preserve the win.

Earlier this week, the entire unit met and talked about taking their game up a notch. It’s a conversation they’ve had frequently, but this week, the culmination of those pep talks converged with the return of injured guys like Houston and safety Daniel Sorensen. It was the perfect storm, and the Chiefs held Arizona to two scores and 260 yards of offense.

“We can’t really rely, especially late in the season, off of a lot of points from our offense,” Ford said. “They’re tremendous, but we can be tremendous also, and the same thing for special teams. So once we play like that as a unit, this team can be really great.”

The Kansas City Chiefs defense, along with Dee Ford, kept the pressure on Arizona Cardinals quarterback Josh Rosen in the Chiefs 26-14 win against the Cardinals at Arrowhead Stadium on Sunday November 11, 2018.

Before Houston’s pick, the Cardinals (2-7) were driving, down just six points in the fourth quarter.

The Chiefs’ offense uncharacteristically stagnated in the third quarter. The timing couldn’t have been worse as the Cardinals opened up the second half with a 7 minute, 12 seconds scoring drive, capped by David Johnson’s 1-yard run.

When the Chiefs (9-1) failed to answer with a touchdown of their own, the defense went to work.

Leading 20-14, they forced a three-and-out on the Cardinals’ ensuing drive and forced Arizona to punt to end the third quarter. Again, the Chiefs’ offense couldn’t make anything happen on the next drive as the Cardinals pressured Patrick Mahomes and sacked him for the fifth time.

But again, the defense was there to pick the offense up when Houston picked off Rosen on the second play of the drive, halting the momentum gained from Rosen’s 23-yard completion to Johnson a play earlier.

“You could argue that he had the biggest play of the game right there,” Chiefs coach Andy Reid said. “I thought he did a heckuva job.”

Houston’s pick, which wound up being the first of two interceptions Rosen threw in the fourth quarter, capped off a nightmare day for the rookie quarterback. Rosen completed 21 of 37 attempts for 204 yards and a touchdown, but he was destroyed by the Chiefs pass rush.

The unit sacked Rosen five times and recorded 13 quarterback hits. Jones led the way with two sacks, giving him six consecutive games with at least one sack, and Dee Ford led all players with four quarterback hits.

Kansas City Chiefs linebacker Justin Houston's interception of a pass by Arizona Cardinals Josh Rosen was a key play in the team 26-14 win against the Cardinals on Sunday November 11, 2018 at Arrowhead Stadium.

“It’s all about competition on this defense,” Jones said. “We want to pick each other up, but we also want to compete with one another. Dee Ford got a sack. 50 got a sack. Allen Bailey got a sack. It just keep going. It’s like a domino effect.”

The Chiefs especially needed that kind of positive energy on the defense on a day where the offense was lackluster.

Though quarterback Patrick Mahomes broke the Chiefs’ franchise record with his 31st touchdown pass of the season in the second quarter, the offense stuttered at times and the absence of Sammy Watkins, who was inactive with a foot injury, was felt.

Mahomes (21 of 28, 249 yards, 2 TD) was held to 249 passing yards, snapping his streak of eight games with at least 300 passing yards. He entered the game one away from setting the NFL record of consecutive 300-yard games.

Mahomes started out the game strongly enough, recording his 30th touchdown pass of the season when he hit Tyreek Hill three plays into the first drive for a 37-yard touchdown. But he wouldn’t throw the record-breaking touchdown — another pass to Hill — until late in the second quarter as the offense had to settle for two long field goals.

For as strong as the offensive line has been through injury-forced turnover, the unit faltered against Arizona’s speedy rush. After allowing just 12 sacks all season entering the game, it allowed four in the first half. Mahomes was also hit six times in the opening quarter. A couple of them were the result of left tackle Eric Fisher not blocking Chandler Jones, but other times, Mahomes seemed to hold on to the ball a bit too long.

But the defense did enough to give the offense room to make some mistakes on Sunday. It continued the positive trend the Chiefs have been on since giving up 43 points to the Patriots nearly a month ago. Since that night, the Chiefs have given up an average of 17 points per game — an improvement from allowing 28 per game through the first six weeks of the season.

And with a primetime matchup against the L.A. Rams in Mexico City on the horizon, the defense is trending in the right direction at the right time.

“Defense, we haven’t been playing well all season,” Houston said. “We’re trying to turn this around and get it going in the right direction because we’ve got goals. As a whole, we know if we want to win this thing, win the whole thing, defense got to play better week in and week out.

“I think it’s a great start, and we’ve just got to continue to build on it.”

The Kansas City Chiefs make their way to the locker room after a 26-14 victory over the Arizona Cardinals on Sunday, Nov. 11, 2018.

Brooke Pryor

Brooke Pryor covers the Kansas City Chiefs and NFL for The Star.

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