Nursing a seven-point lead, the Houston Texans confronted the biggest decision of the game. They faced a fourth-and-3 from the Chiefs 27 with two minutes remaining.
A field goal from about 44 yards would make it a two-score margin and all but clinch the contest in their favor. But with their kicker having missed a field goal and extra point in the game already, the Texans rolled the dice and kept their offense on the field.
But how much of a gamble was it really? Against a Chiefs defense that could hardly stop the Texans on the ground or through the air, Houston coach Bill O’Brien felt confident in his team’s ability to pick up the first down.
The Chiefs brought a heavy pass rush but didn’t get to quarterback Deshaun Watson, whose laser pass found DeAndre Hopkins for an 8-yard gain.
The first meeting between heralded young quarterbacks Watson and Patrick Mahomes went to the visitors, 31-24. The Chiefs’ defense, as has been the case most of the season, couldn’t hold up its end of the bargain.
“For the most part, we haven’t shut down an offense this year,” defensive end Frank Clark said. “That’s something we have to do in order to win. We can’t keep putting the pressure on our offense to do everything. We have to give them more opportunities. We have to slow the game down.”
Carlos Hyde amassed 116 rushing yards against the team that signed and them cut him in the offseason, making it five straight games now that an opposing running back has surpassed 99 yards against the Chiefs. For the season, opponents have nearly doubled up Kansas City on the ground, 971 rushing yards to 496.
The Chiefs got away with their poor rushing defense earlier this season, but it’s bitten them in what’s now a two-game losing streak. Last week, the Indianapolis Colts controlled the clock for more than 37 minutes by dominating up front.
On Sunday, the Texans rolled up 39 minutes, 48 seconds of possession time in amassing 472 total yards., the most against the Chiefs this season. Hyde, in his 70th NFL game, had the fourth-best rushing output of his career.
Yes, this is the same running back the Chiefs found expendable after training camp and traded to Houston.
“Some running backs are more well known than others, but we’re just making everybody look awesome,” Clark said.
Defensive end Alex Okafor said the Chiefs have a list of issues.
“We’ve got to get off blocks and make plays,” Okafor said. “We could be fitted (lined) up correctly, but if we’re not getting off blocks, if we’re not playing physically, I mean, we’re not going to get them down.
“There’s always going to be that leaky yardage, and that’s what’s killing us right now. The leaky yards, we’ve got to get that handled. It’s one thing to get to the ball carrier and to be in your gap. But it’s finishing him violently to where he doesn’t pick up any extra yards.”
Earlier in the year, Okafor said he believed the Chiefs found themselves out of position, a somewhat understandable predicament with a new 4-3 scheme, a new coordinator in Steve Spagnuolo and several new starters.
Now, Okafor believes the responsibility rests with the players.
“I just think we’ve got to get nastier and shed blocks better,” he said.
The Chiefs had hoped for an improved defense over what they showed in 2018, when they finished 31st in the league in yards allowed. Heading into this weekend, they were ranked 27th.
It starts with a better effort against the run. It didn’t help that starting tackles Chris Jones and Xavier Williams were out injured Sunday, along with linebacker Anthony Hitchens. But this has been a season-long problem.
“At the end of the day, you don’t stop the run, you’re not tackling good, you don’t get enough pressure on the quarterback,” Clark said.