Ding dong, the streak is dead.
Which old streak? The wicked playoff losing streak!!!
I thought about it over and over and over last week, and finally determined the Chiefs would need to scratch and claw their way to their first playoff win in 8,028 days. Nothing would come easy at this point. We cemented that fact two years ago.
Instead, the Kansas City Chiefs beat the Houston Texans in the NFL’s biggest road playoff win since 1988.
A distinction that should be taken with a grain of salt, because it sure sounded like the "Home of the CHIEFS" on Saturday. And maybe, disregarded altogether, considering Kansas City’s wealth of success in the city of Houston lately.
All of which has got me thinking how I’d fare down there. Write a Best & Worst on the Texans and immediately get handed the lead columnist job at the Houston Chronicle, I suspect. But then I’d have to, yanno, live in Houston. Not worth it.
Just think about how bad that game could’ve gotten if the Chiefs actually played well. I'd give them a C+ for their effort. Good enough for the NFL's first playoff shutout since 2005, but they’ll need to step it up next weekend heading into Foxboro.
Oh well, at least we have our first true playoff hero to call our own in quite some time. A hero this city can finally be proud of. Yes, this seems necessary following Saturday's historic performance…
The Best & Worst w/ His Dirkness
Best start - Fury of the Knile's 106 yard kick return (might be my last chance to use that nickname): The quickest touchdown in NFL Playoff history. Which also served as the game's winning score. Thankfully, the refs were kind enough to let everybody stay on the field and play it out for the remaining 59:49 anyway. Shout outs are in order for Spencer Ware, Demetrius Harris, Jason Avant and Frank Zombo for their blocks on the play. But it was Anthony Sherman with the best block, due to the sheer volume it produced. Listen to it here. That sound you hear is the Chiefs crushing the Texans’ soul.
Best player on the field - Dontari Poe. Just dominated the first half. He stuffed a couple runs, one time throwing down the RB with one arm. He recovered the fumble forced by Allen Bailey while on his back. And he forced the Josh Mauga INT, destroying his man on the game’s biggest play. Hungry Hungry Hip-Poe is back, and it feels like he hasn’t eaten a full meal all season.
Best player on offense - Donald Stephenson. A list of players with more solo tackles than JJ Watt on Saturday: Nate Washington, DeAndre Hopkins, Alfred Blue, Ryan Griffin, and Spencer Ware. Watt’s only two plays of note (on defense, that is) both came against Fisher on the left side. I’ve been hyper-critical of Stephenson this season. I thought he gave up during the Vikings game (a notion the coaches seemed to agree with based on their decision the next week). However, both his performance on Saturday, as well as his talent, are undeniable.
Best QB run in NFL Playoff history - Alex Smith’s 64 yard scamper in the 3rd quarter (Note: Longest I could find was 56 yards by Kaepernick in 2014). Or at least, it should’ve been, if not for an abysmal holding call on Albert Wilson. Quick tangent: I think I disagreed with every penalty on the Chiefs in the first half - Fleming’s hold on a punt return, Peters’ PI, Sean Smith’s holding on a play where Poe was held by two Texans - I generally pride myself on my unbiased look at officiating, but the playoffs might prove to be my undoing based on this game. End rant. Alex’s legs remain the X-factor for the Chiefs offense. There’s nothing worse than playing perfect defense, only to have it all undone by a QB scramble on 3rd down. I call it the Law of Rich Gannon. It’s disheartening. And the Chiefs will need it to be a weapon next week, especially if Maclin is unable to go.
Best long term news - Jeremy Maclin doesn’t have a torn ACL, which means he’ll be 100 percent come Week 1 of 2016. Unfortunately, a high ankle sprain might be enough to keep him out for the rest of the playoffs, or at least limit his effectiveness. Wide receiver isn’t a position you can really "gut it out" with a bum ankle. Cutting is too important. Saturday definitely wasn't a perfect game, with a few glimpses of past demons, when Houston looked seriously injured and Mac Daddy got hurt.
Worst finisher - Albert Wilson, who really needs to step up this week. And he’s played well recently, but he has this weird problem - he won’t dive for the ball. He’s broken wide open twice this season, and both times Alex just missed him with balls that seemed attainable if A&W Route Beer had just laid out. But he didn't. There was another play this season where he was open on a deep post and just never really made a play on the ball (I forget which game). I’m not sure if he’s afraid of getting hurt or struggles to track the ball in the air or what, but it’s become a bit of a trend that's hard to ignore.
Best matchup - Travis Kelce against the Houston Texans. He averaged 7-117 with two TDs against them this season. In his other 15 games: 4.5 catches and 51 yards per game, with three TDs.
Best Frankie Hammond punt returns - Get called back by penalty. Every. Single. Time.
Worst throw - There were some taters from future Chiefs future Hall of Famer, Brian Hoyer, but completely missing DeAndre Hopkins on a fade when he has Steven Nelson 1-on-1 was pretty bad. Nelson had it played well, but you still have to give your star a shot in that situation. Even if he doesn’t catch it, Nelson might get the backup big man in basketball treatment, where he's more susceptible to a penalty.
Worst play - Alfred Blue’s long run. There was a weird sequence of plays where the Chiefs’ defense just forgot how to tackle. Then you had the aforementioned miss to Hopkins. And then my favorite play of the game: JJ Watt in at QB, which was called to provide a spark to the struggling Texans, but I think actually fired up the Chiefs defense instead. It was kind of insulting. The next play, Josh Mauga is rumbling down the field, trying to recreate the time he couldn't run the full length of the field.
Worst subplot of Saturday - The Chiefs had three meaningful 3rd and shorts which they didn’t convert. Two of them were undone with the worst play calls in football - runs to the short side. And the other was a completion to Kelce tackled short (didn’t mind that call). Needs to be cleaned up next week.
Best bet for Super Bowl 50 MVP - Spencer Ware. Not as in the most likely candidate, but if you could actually find odds on him anywhere, they’d probably be enormous and be worth trying. This is where I start getting into the Patriots game. I’m giving him the ball 20-25 times next week. He’s a freakin’ battering-sledgehammer-bulldozer-ram. He’s shown that no safety in the NFL should feel safe tackling him. And his legs are fresh. He’s logged 88 carries on the entire season. He’s our ticket. Ride him.
Best way to play Chiefs football - Get the early lead. Did you know the Chiefs never trailed in eight of their 11 straight wins. They got down 10 to the Bills, down seven a couple of times to the Raiders, and down 3-0 to the Lions, a game they ended up winning 45-10. This is of the utmost importance next week, especially if Maclin can’t go and the Chiefs need to resort back to the small ball offense they played throughout much of 2014. Get the early lead (Andy), maintain possession (Alex), dictate pace (Ware), convert third downs (Kelce), and "force the opponent into bad football" -Tom Brady. That’s the name of the game next week.
Best question - Who covers Julian Edelman? Ron Parker lines up as slot CB, obviously. But HeisenBob keeps him off the line generally, playing him as sort of a hybrid slot CB - safety. That worries me against all of Edelman’s underneath stuff. That will also highlight Parker’s ability to tackle, which he’s gotten better at, but still isn't his strength. The Chiefs will need to keep this game low scoring, so I’m not too gung ho over a bend-but-don’t-break, free yards type of strategy here. This is my key matchup heading into next week.
Best time to play New England - If you’re telling me I have to play them either this round or next, I’m choosing right now, given their health. A list of players who’ve missed recent games for the Patriots: Edelman, Gronk, Dont’a Hightower (stud ILB), Chandler Jones (stud OLB), Sebastian Vollmer (OT), Devin McCourty (FS), and throw in Brady, who got his ankle rolled up on in Week 17. All of these guys are expected to play on Saturday. So would you rather play them in their first game back, or the game after? I’ll take them this week.
Best feeling - If the Chiefs are able to win in New England, I’ll feel confident they can beat anybody. Pittsburgh here or Denver there, no problem. Neutral site against any of the NFC’s elite? Sign me up. This will be the Chiefs toughest game of the season. They get their shot at the champs. If they win, they’re the new big boys on the block. It's that simple. I wouldn't ask for anything more.
Everything's coming up Milhouse,