The Kansas City Chiefs and Denver Broncos had played through 24 minutes and 33 seconds of scoreless football when quarterback Trevor Siemian lined up in the shotgun facing third-and-7 late in the second quarter at the Denver 8-yard line.
Justin Houston, who already had two sacks in the game, lined up to the right, just on the inside of Tamba Hali.
Siemian snapped the ball and Houston exploded off the line and through the left tackle and left guard, both of whom had no chance. Houston collided with Siemian.
Strip-sack. Fumble. Safety.
And just like that—everyone knew it. Houston, the game wrecker we were used to seeing, was back.
"You haven't seen anything yet," Chiefs safety Eric Berry said after the game. "He's just getting his feet wet. He's going to get better each week."
Based upon Houston's first two games, Berry may be on to something.
In the Week 11 game against the Buccaneers, Houston's first in 10 months, while he may have been back on the field, the rust was visible.
Houston compiled just two tackles in 55 snaps. The player was there, but the game-plan killer we have come to know during his six seasons with the Chiefs was not.
"Last week, it was a mental block I had to get over just being out there and having not played a game in months," Houston said. "It was tough for me mentally in the first half, but the second half I felt like I got my feet wet and I was ready to go, and [Sunday night] I was just coming out there and playing care-free."
And it certainly showed.
Besides leading the Chiefs in tackles with 10 and sacks with 3.0, Houston had four quarterback hurries in the first half alone. According to Pro Football Focus lead NFL analyst Sam Monson, Houston was one of the 10 best players in the league on Sunday, leading the Chiefs with a 92.9 defensive grade.
The plays that made Monson describe Houston as one of the "league's most devastating pass rushers" derive from the sheer desire Houston has had to get back on the field.
10 months away for someone who loves the game of football as much as Houston does is a long time.
"I've been so hungry," he said. "[Rehab] was a long process and through that whole process, I grew spiritually. That helped me so much. Knowing I was going to get back to where I was and dominate the way that I did [was a big motivation]. I saw this game coming months ago. I worked and I had faith and I believed. When you have those three things, nothing can stop you."
Early in the game, an argument could be made that Houston single-handedly stopped the Denver offense in its tracks. After 22 snaps, Broncos second-year right tackle Ty Sambrailo was removed from the game in favor of former Chiefs offensive lineman Donald Stephenson.
Photos from the Chiefs Week 12 matchup against the Denver Broncos
**"Justin Houston had an incredible game," Broncos linebacker Von Miller, who had 3.0 sacks of his own in the game, said. "I'm proud of him. I know how hard it is to bounce back from ACL surgery and to be just normal again. He went out there and he dominated." Even after the switch from Sambrailo to Stephenson, Denver only scored its first points of the game when Houston needed to leave the game with a "tweaked shoulder."
Houston later returned to the game in the second half, and the rest of it—the improbable overtime win—is history.
"The guys that step on the field show so much heart," he said. "When the situation comes down to it, they always keep playing like they did a few weeks ago when we played against the Panthers. I wasn't around then, but no matter how much time is on the clock, our guys are going to keep playing."
Now, Houston is around, and the Chiefs' chances already seem better because of it.