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Chiefs-Texans Instabreakdown: Another AFC West championship secured in Houston

It turned out much more difficult than it needed to be, but Kansas City still found a way to win.

Kansas City Chiefs v Houston Texans Photo by Bob Levey/Getty Images

Final score: Kansas City Chiefs 30, Houston Texans 24

Offense (Caleb James)

At times it felt like the Chiefs were moving the ball with relative ease — but once again, turnovers were an issue for the Kansas City offense. Two fumbles led to fourteen points for the Texans. The first came as Isiah Pacheco was met in the backfield by the Texans’ defensive line. The next was from JuJu Smith-Schuster — who was being pile-driven to the ground. The ball came out late — but after review, it was determined that his momentum was still carrying him forward before the fumble.

That was bad. Fortunately for Kansas City, Patrick Mahomes and Jerrick McKinnon put up a couple of their most efficient games of the season. Mahomes finished with 36 completions on 42 attempts — at one point completing an extraordinary 19 straight — plus two passing touchdowns and one rushing touchdown. It was very much an MVP-level game.

Late in the fourth quarter (with three timeouts in his pocket and the game tied), head coach Andy Reid elected to get conservative. Despite Mahomes picking apart the Texans underneath, the Chiefs chose to run the clock down and settle for a field goal. But Harrison Butker’s kick missed, forcing overtime. Considering how well Mahomes was moving the ball — and that Butker had missed an extra point earlier — this was a baffling play-calling sequence.

Then on a third-and-4 in overtime, the Chiefs were looking for a home-run ball — but the protection could not hold. Mahomes took a sack, which forced a punt. On the first Houston play, the defense forced a fumble. And much like he had all day, McKinnon stepped up. He took the first play of the second overtime possession to the house. The 26-yard touchdown run ended the game — and might have made a case for him to be the starting running back.

Offensive Player of the Game: Running Back Jerrick McKinnon

Rookie Isiah Pacheco struggled greatly in the first half, leading the coaching staff to turn to McKinnon. Finishing with 122 all-purpose yards and two touchdowns, McKinnon once again feasted as a backfield receiver. Mahomes trusted him enough to get him the ball often — and his big run at the end put his vision and patience on full display. He was also able to make an impact in pass protection, continuing to help keep Mahomes on his feet. For the second consecutive year, McKinnon is heating up at the right time.

Defense (Bryan Stewart)

Let’s start with the bad news: on Sunday, it was largely more of the same from Kansas City’s defense. We saw long, excruciating drives where the opposing offense nickel-and-dimed their way down the field with one first down after another.

Penalties were a huge problem — and whether or not you believe that Carl Cheffers’ officiating crew was largely to blame, these penalties almost cost the team the game. But the defense repeatedly failed to make big plays, too. The Texans entered the game with the league’s second-most giveaways — and through four quarters, the Chiefs failed to force a single one.

The yardage wasn’t a big problem. Giving up just 223 total yards to Houston was fine — and allowing just 125 passing yards was great. The problem is that the formula this defense is using just doesn’t marry up with the team’s elite offense. As we once again saw on Sunday, it simply makes games harder to win than they should be.

It was fitting that in the overtime period, the only player who had recorded a sack — defensive end Frank Clark — knocked the ball out of Houston quarterback Davis Mills’ hands during a scramble. That gave linebacker Willie Gay Jr. the chance to come up with the game-altering recovery right as it appeared the Chiefs were headed for a loss or tie.

I won’t pretend to be smarter than defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo — but I can’t help but think this approach needs to change. Limiting chunk plays is fine if you are consistently forcing turnovers — and therefore giving the offense more possessions — but if the defense is bending, bending (and finally breaking) to the tune of 24 to 28 points in every game, the pressure on the offense to be perfect is far too high.

Defensive Player of the Game: Defensive end Frank Clark

Until Clark’s forced fumble, this would have been a hard choice. When their best was needed, Clark was able to do something so few Kansas City defenders have done all season: force a desperately-needed turnover.

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