Houston Texans, NFL, AFC divisional playoffs

Texans blow big lead, fall in AFC divisional round

By DENNIS SILVA II, Times Sports Editor
Posted 1/12/20

As spectacularly as it started, it finished just as miserably.

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Houston Texans, NFL, AFC divisional playoffs

Texans blow big lead, fall in AFC divisional round

Posted

As spectacularly as it started, it finished just as miserably.

The 2019 Texans made their mark on Houston sports history, producing one of the more memorable letdowns and allowing a 24-point lead to disappear in a matter of 11 minutes in their 51-31 AFC divisional playoff loss to the Chiefs in Kansas City on Sunday, Jan. 12.

Though not quite as embarrassing, the harrowing setback for Texans fans brought back to mind flashbacks of the 1992 Houston Oilers’ wild card playoff loss to the Buffalo Bills, when the Oilers blew a 35-3 third-quarter lead.

“This is a tough loss,” coach Bill O’Brien said. “We just didn’t get it done. There’s not much to say. We’ll go back and regroup and have a good offseason. Show up next year and battle again. Every year is different. We did some good things this year and it wasn’t enough.”

The Texans finished 11-7, won the AFC South for the fourth time in five years, and won their first playoff game since 2016.

Before the game was five minutes old against the Chiefs, the Texans had scored twice. They led 21-0 after the first quarter, a rare productive start to a game this season. Hosting the AFC championship game this week against AFC South rival Tennessee seemed all but a sure bet.

Until, a Houston football team Houston’d.

“It all fell apart,” defensive end J.J. Watt said.

The Texans led 24-0 with 10:58 left in the second quarter. They trailed 28-24 at halftime, and 34-24 with 11:24 left in the third quarter.

The Chiefs relentlessly stormed back into the game, specifically taking advantage of their big, quick tight end Travis Kelce against rookie defensive back Lonnie Johnson Jr. Kelce caught eight passes on 10 targets for 83 yards and three touchdowns in the first half, most of that production—and all of his scores—coming in the second quarter.

“They do a good job, created a lot of good plays for him this time, creating pick routes to get him open,” Johnson said. “Other than that, I held up on my end, but overall, we didn’t do what we wanted to do.”

O’Brien said they tried to mix coverages, with man coverage, double teams and some zone, against Kelce, who finished with 10 catches for 134 yards and three touchdowns on 12 targets.

“It was a tough night,” O’Brien said.

Kelce’s three touchdowns in a quarter tied an NFL playoff record. Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes’ four touchdown passes in the second quarter tied a playoff record.

Mahomes finished by completing 23 of 35 passes for 321 yards and five touchdowns to go with 53 rushing yards. He was not sacked.

“We didn’t do anything to stop him,” O’Brien said. “I don’t think any lead is safe against these guys.”

Kansas City (13-4) was given help, however.

O’Brien called for a fake punt on 4th-and-4, up 24-7, early in the second quarter from the Houston 31-yard line, that was well short. Kansas City answered with a quick Kelce touchdown to make it 24-14. Texans returner DeAndre Carter fumbled the ensuing kick return that led to Kelce’s second touchdown and a 24-21 Chiefs deficit.

“We felt like we weren’t going to be able to punt it too many times today. We felt like we had to manufacture some points, manufacture some yards. It just didn’t work out,” O’Brien said of the fake punt. “We had a look and it didn’t work. When you go against a team that explosive on offense, you’ve got to keep scoring. We weren’t able to do that.”

It made for a puzzling decision after O’Brien elected to kick a field goal on 4th-and-1 in the Chiefs’ red zone earlier in the second quarter. His reasoning was the Texans “didn’t have a great play there for that point and time, so I decided to kick the three (points).”

Between the second and third quarters, the Chiefs scored touchdowns on seven consecutive drives. By the time Texans quarterback Deshaun Watson scored on a 5-yard run to his left with 24 seconds left in the third quarter, the Chiefs had scored 41 unanswered points.

“As a defense, we’ve got to get a stop,” Watt said. “Somebody’s got to make a play, especially when momentum swings. We didn’t do that.”

O’Brien said the loss was on him.

“We definitely have to coach better,” he said. “We didn't do enough to put our guys in good enough position to make plays. We have to do a better job of coaching.”

Heading into his seventh year at the helm of the Texans, O’Brien is adamant the team is going in the right direction.

“I think we did a lot of good things this year,” he said. “I feel good about where we're headed.”

Watson was vocal in his support for the only NFL coach he’s had.

“You might have doubt, but there’s no doubt,” said Watson, who completed 31 of 52 passes for 388 yards and two touchdowns to go with 37 rushing yards and a score. “I love that man, I’m gonna play hard for that man. As long as I’m at quarterback, he’s cool with me.”

The Texans outgained the Chiefs 442-434 in total yards, but were outgained 388-323 after the first quarter. Houston controlled the ball almost 10 minutes longer than Kansas City, with a time-of-possession advantage of 34:35 to 25:25.

Kansas City totaled 29 first downs, averaged 7.6 yards per play and was 7-for-8 in the red zone. Houston was 2-for-4 in the red zone.

“It wasn’t fun,” Watt said. “Sports are all about highs and lows. People come to the game and people play the game to experience those highs and lows. We experienced an extreme high early and we experienced a hell of a lot of lows as the game went on. It sucked, but that’s what happens. Now you have to live with that.

“You have to understand that in order to strive for those highs, you’re going to potentially face the consequences of the lows that came with it. That’s where we are.”

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