The Chiefs have won a playoff game.
That sentence has not been true since I was eight years old.
I spent the first hour or so just basking in the delight of cheering for one of the best eight teams in the NFL. Then, as always, it was time to turn my mind toward what to write about. Fortunately, subject matter presented itself almost immediately.
I spent (as I usually do) a little time going through the opponent's SB Nation site following the game. I also took the time to survey Twitterverse to see what certain folks were saying regarding the game. I found, much to my surprise, that the general takeaway from the game (particularly from Texans fans) was quite different from my own.
What I saw was the superior team beat the inferior team without too much trouble. While the Chiefs weren't COMFORTABLE until late in the third quarter (which when you think about it, is pretty early in a game to be comfortable and itself an indication of a blowout), there was no real threat to the Chiefs after Josh Mauga's goal line interception.
It wasn't the most relaxing game I've ever watched, but there was no point that the teams appeared to be equals. I think the Chiefs beat that Texans squad seven games out of 10, regardless of where the games are played. They're just BETTER.
However, the prevailing theory I found among Texans fans (and some Chiefs fans) was that Brian Hoyer "handed" the game over the Chiefs.
"In a game that was winnable for Houston," Peter King wrote, "Hoyer handed it to the Chiefs."
Oh? Let's talk about that.
Now make no mistake, Brian Hoyer played really poorly. However, it's silly to believe that all of his struggles were just about Brian Hoyer. A lot of the issues Hoyer had were issues caused by the Chiefs being a swarming, suffocating defense that covers well on the back end and terrorizes quarterbacks on the front end.
For example, the Mauga pick. If you just assume all interceptions are simply "giveaways," then you view that as some kind of gift to the Chiefs. However, that's not what happened on that play.
On Mauga pick, Dontari Poe just humiliated the center for quick pressure. That's a forced error, not a gift. pic.twitter.com/2Uf4NxsHmG
— Seth Keysor (@RealMNchiefsfan) January 10, 2016
Don't tell me that's a gift. That pick was a direct result of Poe obliterating the center with a swim move summoned from the depths of Hades. In the meantime, Mauga did a good job staying on the route but not in front of it. That baits a panicked quarterback into a stupid throw as often as not, regardless of who he is.
You see a similar event with Hoyer's fumble later in the game. Gift? No, it was a result of Allen Bailey pushing Chris Clark back like he was on skates while Dee Ford flew around the right side of the line. Hoyer had nowhere to go besides stepping up, and Bailey literally used Clark to knock the ball out of Hoyer's hand (here's the GIF). Again, that's a FORCED turnover. That's the defensive players making a play, not the ball being handed over.
The Chiefs were owning the Texans at the line of scrimmage all afternoon. The number of successful runs their RBs had could be counted on one hand, and were almost entirely due to missed tackles (you know, gifts) by the Chiefs. On the other side of the ball, the Chiefs offensive line answered the call by and large and kept Alex Smith clean.
Even taking turnovers out of the equation, the Chiefs were significantly more successful moving the ball against the Texans than the other way around. The Chiefs averaged 5.1 yards per play from scrimmage. The Texans averaged a paltry 3.6 yards per play. That stat doesn't scream the Texans were unlucky. It screams, the Chiefs could move the ball on the Texans, and the Texans couldn't move the ball on the Chiefs. And that's the way the game went.
For all the talk about the vaunted Texans defense (fourth in weighted DVOA when the season ended), the Chiefs had some success moving the ball. What any Texans fan crying "gift" is refusing to acknowledge is the fact that the Chiefs, in the third and into fourth quarter, had a pair of touchdown drives that went 94 and 71 yards. And that's with a huge scramble by Smith (one of the better runs I've seen him make) called back due to a hold on Albert Wilson.
The simple fact is that even though the Chiefs were more penalized (and at more critical times) and let a massive opportunity (deep ball to Wilson early) slip through their fingers, they still dominated the game.
This was supposed to be a defensive battle. Well, here's the deal; in defensive battles, a team isn't supposed to run the ball for 140-plus yards and complete 77.2 percent of its passes at 7.86 yards per attempt. They're supposed to struggle to break a hundred yards rushing (which the Texans did) and have a hard time completing passes (again, Texans).In short, this wasn't a "defensive" battle. This was a complete team playing a team with a bad offense and a good defense.
A big part of the difference? The Chiefs have Travis Kelce and Alex Smith 2.0 (or Pod Alex). The Texans have Some Guy and Brian Hoyer.
Texans had no one who could handle Kelce. This play led to a FG to put Chiefs up 13-0. Nice read/throw as well. pic.twitter.com/o9dkm7UsJu
— Seth Keysor (@RealMNchiefsfan) January 10, 2016
The bulk of this is about Kelce, so we'll get to him in a moment. But about Alex Smith ... well, I'll put it this way; I distinctly remember many people saying that Hoyer and Smith are roughly equivalent. Well, we got a chance to see Hoyer up against a good defense and Smith up against a good defense. Close? Not even sort of. Smith is a good quarterback, and Hoyer is not.
But about Kelce ... all season we've been waiting for Kelce to flip the switch and go from "really good player" to "dominating force." He has the kind of talent that even being a top five tight end seems to be below what he could do. Well, apparently Kelce was saving something for the playoffs. Outside of a drop early in the game (it was a classic "trying to run before catching" situation on that one), he was fantastic.
The funny thing is I didn't even realize how good he had been until I saw his stat line after the game. Eight catches and 128 yards is just a ridiculous game. What made it even more impressive, though, was the nature of the catches Kelce made. The above play got the Chiefs into field goal range. On the Chiefs 94-yard drive Kelce had a 16 yard reception on third and three that brought the Chiefs into Houston territory.
And finally, on the Chiefs last touchdown drive (that ended with the Chiefs going up 27-0 and the game being over in a very real sense), it was Kelce with a huge 48-yard gain from Smith that brought the Chiefs to the Texans' 11-yard-line. In a game where Maclin was injured, Kelce was a main cog through which the Chiefs ran.
You can talk all you want about turnovers, but the fact is the Texans didn't have a lot of success stopping the Chiefs when the Chiefs weren't getting in their own way.
The Chiefs were making plays from the moment the game started. A lot of fans tend to treat special team touchdowns as though they are somehow the result of luck, but that's not always the case. In particular, the opening kickoff touchdown by Knile Davis was anything but luck.
Ware and Sherman treated their coverage defenders like freshmen who dared step onto the field with the seniors. It was beautiful. Demetrius Harris was close to a flag, but the simple fact is that the Chiefs weren't given this touchdown; they plowed through the Texans to get it. An excellent summary of the game itself.
The Chiefs won against the Texans because they are better on both sides of the ball. They have a superior front seven, a superior secondary, superior playmakers on offense, and a quarterback who is significantly better. Combine that with the offensive line of the Chiefs stepping up to the challenge of a great defensive line in the Texans, and this was a mismatch.
I avoided saying such things prior to the game for fear of being accused of trash talking or being an unrealistic homer. However, the results on the field are as clear as day. The Chiefs could run the ball and pass the ball on the Texans, and the Texans could not do so against the Chiefs. This game was taken, not won.
New England will be a much tougher test, but make no mistake, the Chiefs belong in the playoffs. Anyone who doubts that at this point is kidding themselves.