When the Kansas City Chiefs go on the road to face the Baltimore Ravens on Sunday Night Football this weekend, two of its most prominent former players will be on the field against them. Wide receiver Sammy Watkins will face his former club for the first time since leaving as a free agent — and longtime Chiefs EDGE rusher Justin Houston will line up against Kansas City for the second time.
Meanwhile, another former Chief — cornerback Marcus Peters — will remain on the Baltimore sideline. He is out for the season with a torn ACL that he suffered during a preseason practice.
Watkins is known for his playoff heroics as a Chief — including the legendary catch against former San Francisco 49ers cornerback Richard Sherman while the team rallied in Super Bowl LIV. But after missing 14 games with injuries during his three seasons in Kansas City, he is also a somewhat polarizing figure. In the offseason, he signed with the Ravens as a free agent.
During media appearances on Wednesday and Thursday, Chiefs head coach Andy Reid, offensive coordinator Eric Bieniemy and defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo all said something about Watkins.
“I’m a big Sammy Watkins fan,” explained Reid. “I like him as a human being, I liked him as a player, and I wish him the best. We’re playing him, so I can’t wish him the best for that — but for the rest of the season, I wish him the best in that. Heck of a kid.”
Bieniemy echoed those sentiments, calling Watkins a “beautiful soul.” He then discussed watching his former receiver this week on Monday Night Football, as Watkins caught four passes for 96 yards against the Las Vegas Raiders in a 33-27 overtime loss.
“It was actually weird watching him in the game the other night — just seeing him and watching him,” said Bieniemy. “He actually looked pretty good. But I’m proud of him, wishing him all the best — with the exception of this weekend.”
“It’ll be good just to see him and say hello to him,” he added.
Watkins is also clearly being considered in this week’s defensive game plan.
“We know Sammy quite well and how really good he is,” noted Spagnuolo. “So our guys respect that on the back end.”
Chiefs safety Tyrann Mathieu also addressed preparing for his former teammate.
“Sammy’s a great player — especially when he’s healthy,” said Mathieu. “I think the biggest thing with him is he’s been around us a while. So he kind of knows all the tricks — and he knows what to expect. So we’ve added some wrinkles this week to throw things off a bit. We expect his best shot. I know him competing against us — he knows he’s going to get our best shot. He’s definitely a player we have to account for.”
On Thursday, Watkins spoke to the media, giving no indication that he sees Sunday night’s game differently from any other contest — or that he has anything to prove to the Chiefs.
“I honestly think they already know what type of player I am. It’s not me proving anything to them,” insisted Watkins. “I love those guys over there. I had fun. I had my best time winning. I just thinking I’m on the other side now. I just want to go out there, have fun, make big plays, and will a win.”
Houston is getting much less attention for playing his old team, having previously faced the Chiefs with the Indianapolis Colts in 2019. Houston had a sack of Patrick Mahomes in that game.
The Chiefs released Houston — fourth all-time in sacks among Chiefs players — at the start of the 2019 offseason. He played with the Colts the past two seasons before signing with the Ravens on July 31.
Reid mentioned Houston when he spoke about whether former Ravens tackle Orlando Brown Jr. would give them any insight about his former team.
“They’ve got Justin Houston, too,” chuckled Reid. “So there’s a little bit of that going on in this game of knowing people in organizations.”
When Bieniemy spoke of Houston, he left no doubt of the urgency to plan for the player he referred to as “Big 5-0.”
“Justin is a hell of a football player,” declared Bieniemy. “There’s a reason why he’s had the career that he’s had. And so, we’re very aware of what Justin brings to the table. We just need to make sure we don’t make it about Justin; we don’t want all the attention going to Justin because that means that we’re not actually doing what we need to do. We just need to go out there, allow our guys to play and make sure we’re neutralizing their rush — but more importantly, make sure we’re focused on what we need to do.”
With an extensive Thursday injury report — and pessimistic reports about some critical injuries — the Ravens are certainly hoping that playing the Chiefs gives Watkins and Houston extra motivation to deliver star performances on Sunday.