The Morning After: Houston

Posted Oct 18, 2010

Chiefs feel the pain of Houston's 21-point fourth quarter

A game like Sunday’s will rip your heart out.

Kansas City’s weekend visit to Reliant Stadium offered an unfriendly reminder that the tide of an NFL game can change at any given moment. Unfortunately, it also brought forth a harsh reality-check that this team just isn’t quite where it needs to be in order to consistently win these types of games.

“I’ve been telling it pretty much the way that it is,” head coach Todd Haley said. “This is a team in transition. We’re going to come on the road and we are going to win these big games, and I think it’s going to be sooner than later. We’re obviously just not there yet.”

Sunday’s loss was as painful as any of the Todd Haley era.

Throughout the week, Haley had billed this game as the biggest test yet for Kansas City and it appeared his team had taken that message to heart. Houston trailed this one for 59 ½ minutes before capping off a gut-wrenching comeback that was led by 21 fourth quarter points. For the second-straight week, the Chiefs boarded a plane home feeling that they had let a statement game slip through the cracks.

“There’s a bitter taste in our mouth,” CB Brandon Flowers said. “This is two weeks in a row that we felt we should have closed a game out and it didn’t happen.”

A post-game glimpse into the Chiefs locker room echoed Flowers’ comments. This is a team that, much like its fans, felt the aftermath of letting a win get away. Heads were down, voices were quiet and bags were packed quickly.

“There are a lot of guys in deep, deep pain and that’s why I’m encouraged,” Haley said. “I know that our team gained some valuable experience from this.”

This one is going to sting for a while. It’s still stinging this morning. The good news is that the confines of Arrowhead await for a pivotal two-game home stand.

Let’s break down some of Sunday’s positives and negatives in our weekly Three to Like/Three for Improvement on The Morning After.

Three to Like

1)      Ready to Run

We took a closer look at Houston’s fifth-ranked rushing defense on Saturday evening and came to a conclusion that the Chiefs were going to test the Texans’ high ranking in that category. On Sunday, that theory proved correct and the Chiefs ran wild. In fact, Kansas City’s final rushing output was the seventh-most ever surrendered by the Texans franchise.

In total, the Chiefs ran the football 38 times for 228 yards. Thomas Jones averaged 5.3 yards per tote, while Jamaal Charles averaged 5.8 yards per carry. The two combined for 193 rushing yards and Charles was just seven yards short from giving the Chiefs two 100-yard runners for the first time since Christian Okoye and Harvey Williams both hit the century mark against Buffalo in 1991.

“It was about execution and everybody working together,” left tackle Branden Albert said of the Chiefs rushing performance. “The offensive line, tight ends, running backs and receivers were all working together in blocking.”

Sunday was Kansas City’s second 200-yard rushing game of the season and ninth-consecutive team outing of 100 rushing yards or more.

“Running the football has and will be continue to be a focus point for us,” Haley said.

2)      Redemption Sunday

No two players took more public bullets last week than QB Matt Cassel and WR Dwayne Bowe. Over the course of preparations for Houston, Haley was asked about both players multiple times. What it would take to make a change to Brodie Croyle was an inquiry, and Bowe’s performance in Indianapolis was a hot topic on seemingly each day of the week.

Through it all, both Cassel and Bowe went about their business and focused on preparing for Houston. That approach paid off. Despite the loss, each player played winning football on Sunday.

Cassel went 20-of-29 for 201 yards with three TDs (two going to Bowe) and posted a 122.9 QB rating, while Bowe turned in his first 100-yard game of the season on six catches. Bowe’s first TD catch came off an ultra-impressive 17-yard pass from Cassel that arrived just before Bowe braced for contact in the end zone. Bowe’s second TD (42 yards) topped the first and might have been his best display of running after the catch since he entered the league in 2007.

Bowe caught everything in sight on Sunday, blending difficult catches with routine grabs. His performance was even more clutch considering the inactive status of fellow starter Chris Chambers. Throughout everything that occurred in Indy last week, Cassel said his confidence never wavered in its support of Bowe.

“I’ve got a tremendous amount of confidence in Dwayne Bowe,” Cassel said after the game. “Week-in and week-out he has showed me that. Obviously last week he had a few mishaps and that’s just one of those rarities that happen in football. He came back this week and I was really happy for him and proud of him that he showed up like I thought he would and made big plays.”

3)      Playing To Win

Todd Haley looked at the individual matchups that awaited them in Houston and determined that they were going to need a hefty offensive output in order to win against the Texans. As it turns out, they were right as 31 offensive points weren’t enough for victory.

Much like last weekend’s game in Indianapolis, Kansas City felt that it couldn’t settle for three-point kicks and that the game plan would require open -minded approach in going for sevens throughout the game. That line of thinking was visible from the first drive.

Rather than settle for an early field goal, the Chiefs went for it on two fourth downs during their offensive first possession. A fourth-and-two from the Houston 17-yard line was converted via a pass interference call and Cassel later hit *LB Mike Vrabel on a fourth-and-one from the Houston two-yard line.

Both were instances in which the common approach would have been to kick the field goal.

It’s now been two weeks in a row that the Chiefs have gone on the road against a high-octane offense and thought “outside the box” regarding scoring opportunities. Haley tried for another fourth down again later in the game, but a false start brought on the punt team.

“It was clear that we were going to be hard-pressed in some of those matchups,” Haley explained. “The guys fought their butts off and had opportunities to make a couple of plays that we didn’t make and those will cost you.”

As it turns out, those two early fourth down conversions didn’t yield enough points for victory, but at least the Chiefs had a plan and saw it through. They’re also proving that they’re ready to take on any opponent in any setting, which is something that we haven’t seen since the mid-2000s

That in itself is an upgrade and it will ultimately lead to more wins than losses.

*Vrabel now has 10 career receptions for 10 TDs. He is the only player to have 10 TDs in as many catches since the NFL began tracking statistics in 1933.

Three for Improvement

1)      2nd Half Defense

Kansas City’s defense had been the strong point of the team for the first four games of the season, and proved to be just as stout through two quarters of play in Houston. Kansas City forced three first-half punts and produced three-and-outs on half of Houston’s first-half drives.

The defense actually began the second half in a similar fashion as well, but then the bottom dropped out and when it dropped, the guard couldn’t have fallen faster.

Houston scored 28 points on their final four second half possessions, churning out 31 plays for 278 yards in the process. There wasn’t a lone defensive issue that stood out; Houston was able to run, pass and find drive-supporting flags along the way. Multiple personnel packages, blitzes and coverage change-ups were all tried, but none provided an answer.

In short, Kansas City just couldn’t get a second-half stop.

“We have to play better, point blank,” CB Brandon Flowers said. “The offense did a hell of a job putting points on the board and the defense just has to have stops. We make even one stop that second half and we win the game.”

2)      Explosive Plays

The Texans turned in far too many big plays for Chiefs to expect to leave Houston a win. The usual suspects, WR Andre Johnson and QB Matt Schaub, had their hookups but other Texans were able to get involved and turned in performances critical to Sunday’s loss.

Backup RB Derrick Ward broke more than a handful of tackles on a 38-yard third quarter TD run and TE Owen Daniels emerged as a difficult matchup for Kansas City’s linebackers and safeties. The big plays ballooned Houston’s average yards per rush to 6.0 yards and saw four Texans log double-digit yards-per-catch averages.

“When you have breakdowns on the defense its collective,” LB Derrick Johnson said. “Just all around on defense we need to play better. We would have one this game had we played better.”

In all, the Chiefs surrendered 10 plays of 15+ yards. Even worse, half of those came during Houston’s fourth quarter comeback.

3)      Critical Plays

When a team is able stage a comeback and win facing a 10-point deficit in the game’s final six minutes, there are usually some critical plays involved. Those plays typically go in the favor of the winning team and Sunday was no exception as Houston came out ahead on two critical late-game snaps.

The first critical play came on a Kansas City third-and- two with 2:36 to play. The Chiefs had been a fantastic offensive unit all day, essentially doing what they wanted against the Texans defense. They’d also converted 60% of their third down snaps to that point, including some mid-to-long yardage settings. Two yards was all it took to set the stage for a road victory, but in this instance two yards played out like two miles when Cassel’s pass sailed incomplete.

“We had a chance to seal it there at the end, but couldn’t come through,” TE Tony Moeaki said.

The second critical play occurred on Houston’s game-winning drive.

After taking a timeout at the 1:38 mark, Houston faced a third-and-ten from the Chiefs 24-yard line. The low percentage conversion scenario turned into a first down pass to Daniels for 11 yards. A defensive stop would have induced an overtime field goal attempt and the game would have written itself from there, but Houston took their first (and final) lead of the day just two snaps later.

Morning After Overtime

As for the AFC West race, there’s one of two lines of thinking for Chiefs fans following Sunday’s game.

1)      The Chiefs lost, but so did the rest of the division. The two-game lead remains!

2)      Sunday’s loss hurts even more because the Chiefs lost an opportunity to take a three-game lead on the division. The rest of the division losing adds to the pain of this loss.

Regardless of where you stand, the rest of the division going 1-5 while the Chiefs go 0-2 is pretty incredible.

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