Kansas City Chiefs linebacker Justin Houston has been around for a while, but he’s never been exactly in this place before.
Houston, 30, is now in his eighth season with the Chiefs. He was there for the bad times at the beginning of his career. In his rookie season, the Chiefs went 5-8 before head coach Todd Haley was fired in 2011 to be replaced by defensive coordinator Romeo Crennel, who stayed at the helm for the disastrous 2-14 season that followed.
But he’s been there for some good times, too — including the amazing 2013 turnaround under new head coach Andy Reid, when the team started 9-0 on the way to an 11-5 record and a berth in the playoffs — and Houston’s remarkable 2014 season, where he notched 22 sacks to lead the NFL.
But none of the highs have been like this one: playing in the AFC championship game this Sunday against the New England Patriots. He recognizes the importance — and the rarity — of the moment in which his team now finds itself.
“I talk to the young guys and explain that situation and tell them how important this situation is,” he said on Wednesday. “Not too many guys get this opportunity. I was telling them how I have played with some of the great ones who have played here, and they never had this opportunity. So take advantage of this opportunity. Let’s make the best of it.”
Houston said that the leadership role he’s now fulfilling with a progressively younger team didn’t just happen.
“I’ve been doing it for a couple of years now, so it’s not just something that just happened overnight,” he said. “I think I worked to get to this position and to be here. They look up to me.
“I speak what I feel in my heart and my mind,” he continued. “I just know that we’re young and I have experience in certain situations, so I just try tell them and help enlighten them.”
Houston was asked if he felt the leadership of Chiefs veterans like himself helped young players like Charvarius Ward and Tremon Smith when they were thrust into larger roles in the Seattle Seahawks game in Week 16.
“We can’t take credit for that. That’s coaching. I think the coaches have done a great job of getting them prepared and helping them understand. Also, just playing experience. That was their first game. You grow confidence the more you play, and I think those guys are doing a great job doing that.”
Houston was asked about how difficult it would be to defend against Patriots quarterback Tom Brady, whom Houston described as “a coach on the field.”
“It’s difficult any time you play them – whether it’s here or there – because they’re smart,” he said. “They have a coach on the field. He sees everything. He’s been playing for a while so there’s nothing you can throw at him that he hasn’t seen. To give us the best chance of winning we have to keep him off the field and keep our offense on the field.”
Reminded of the last time the Patriots played in Arrowhead — the time the Chiefs shocked them with a 41-14 victory in Week 4 of 2014 — Houston said he expects more from the Patriots on this visit to Kansas City.
“I think we came out firing in all phases and I believe they didn’t play their best game,” he said of the 2014 game. “I know it’s going to be a different game this Sunday. They are going to bring it.”