Veteran linebacker Justin Houston rises to occasion in Chiefs’ time of need vs. Ravens

Chiefs LB Justin Houston on overtime win over Baltimore

Kansas City Chiefs linebacker Justin Houston discusses the team’s performance and resiliency after rallying late in fourth quarter for a 27-24 overtime win over the Baltimore Ravens on Sunday, Dec. 9, 2018.
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Kansas City Chiefs linebacker Justin Houston discusses the team’s performance and resiliency after rallying late in fourth quarter for a 27-24 overtime win over the Baltimore Ravens on Sunday, Dec. 9, 2018.

Amidst the commotion, emotion, adrenaline and noise of overtime, one voice surprisingly cut through it all and struck at the heart of Chiefs veteran outside linebacker and pass rusher Justin Houston.

Houston, a four-time Pro Bowl selection, wreaked havoc on the Baltimore Ravens in the closing moments of the Chiefs’ 27-24 overtime win at Arrowhead Stadium.

That came on the heels of Houston getting an earful from backup defensive lineman Justin Hamilton, a fourth-year pro and second-year member of the Chiefs who dressed for the first time all season. Hamilton lit a fire under Houston that may have legitimately swayed the outcome of the game.

“I just knew we had to make a play,” Houston said. “(Hamilton) walked up to me on the sideline. He called me out. He said, ‘You show energy all week long. I need it now. I need it now! You’re the leader of this defense. I need it now!’ So he challenged me, and I just want to be that guy the team could lean on in a time of need.”

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The Chiefs were held to a field goal on their opening possession of overtime, which meant Ravens rookie quarterback Lamar Jackson had the chance to march his team down field for either a game-tying or game-winning score. Houston’s will would allow it.

The Ravens had the makings of such a march. They’d moved the ball across mid-field and ran one play in Chiefs’ territory before the two-minute warning. On the next play, Houston drove his blocker into the backfield and left his beleaguered opponent no option other than committing a holding penalty that pushed the Ravens back to their own 45-yard line.

Houston followed up one play latter by dominating his matchup again and combining with Dee Ford, the Chiefs’ other pass-rush menace off the edge, to chase down Jackson for a sack that knocked the Ravens back to their own 41 and knocked Jackson out of the game.

Houston registered six tackles, 1 1/2 sacks, one quarterback hit, one forced fumble and a fumble recovery.

“Justin Houston, I told y’all,” said Chiefs defensive lineman Chris Jones, who set a franchise record with a sack in his ninth consecutive game. “Don’t let Justin Houston sneak up on y’all man. He’s still a dynamic pass rusher. I mean, this guy will go out and have three or four sacks in a game. That’s just expected of Justin Houston. That’s just him being him.”

Houston’s strip-sack in the final minute of the fourth quarter gave the Chiefs the chance to win in regulation. He exploded off the edge, unblocked, from Jackson’s blind side and both caused and recovered a fumble that immediately put the Chiefs in field goal territory.

The play in itself served as a testament to Houston’s awareness and preparation.

Houston recognized by the way the tackle across from him got into a stance that he’d kick out wide in his pass protection setup. Houston adjusted his own stance in order to take advantage, knowing the blockers wouldn’t have time to react, and his planned worked perfectly.

“Justin had a feeling that the tackle was going to do what he did,” Ford said. “Talking to him afterwards, he sort of geared up and just went. Any other guy in that position would’ve been they’re just going to block out and throw the ball quick. But he was able to know — he’s so cerebral that he was able to see that he might come free. He was gone so fast that the guard couldn’t even — it was like a blur. It’s not what you want to do (smiling) when fifty pins his ears back. You know what I mean. That’s not what you want to do.

“That’s just what makes Justin a great player, really just his mindset (and) understanding that situation, looking at the tackle, studying, knowing what he was about to do.”

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Lynn Worthy covers the Kansas City Royals and Major League Baseball for The Star. A native of the Northeast, he’s covered high school, collegiate and professional sports for The Lowell Sun, Binghamton Press & Sun-Bulletin, Allentown Morning Call and The Salt Lake Tribune. He’s won awards for sports features and sports columns.