Justin Houston on Playing in the AFC Championship Game: “Not Too Many Guys Get This Opportunity”

Kansas City Chiefs’ Head Coach Andy Reid, quarterback Patrick Mahomes, tight end Travis Kelce, tailback Damien Williams and linebacker Justin Houston met with the media on Wednesday afternoon as the Chiefs prepare to take on the New England Patriots in the AFC Championship Game on Sunday.

Here are five things that stood out.

Head Coach Andy Reid

1. Reid opened his portion of Wednesday’s press conference by providing an update on the Chiefs’ injured players.

Safety Eric Berry (heel), tailback Spencer Ware (hamstring) and linebacker Dorian O’Daniel (calf/ankle) all missed last Saturday’s Divisional Round game against Indianapolis due to injuries, but there was good news to report ahead of practice on Wednesday.

“There’s really just one who won’t practice today and that’s Dorian,” Reid said. “The rest of the guys will go.”

Reid went on to say that Berry and offensive guard Laurent-Duvernay Tardif, who Kansas City activated from Injured Reserve on Tuesday, were both day-to-day and will rotate in with the first-team units this week as each player works their way back to the field.

Quarterback Patrick Mahomes

2. Mahomes was asked about the Chiefs’ narrow loss to New England in Week 6, which marked the first defeat of his professional career.

“It didn’t feel good. I feel like we didn’t play our best, especially early in the game,” Mahomes recalled. “When you play teams of this caliber with this much history and who know how to win and capitalize on people’s mistakes, you can’t come back and win games like that. It was shown that game. For us, we have to learn from that, know that we can’t make those mistakes and that we have to come out with our best effort from the beginning of the game all the way through the end. It’s going to be a dog fight for the entire game.”

The Chiefs nearly completed the comeback in that contest, fighting back from multiple deficits before ultimately falling on a field goal as time expired. The two teams will now face off once again with a spot in the Super Bowl on the line – stakes that aren’t lost on Mahomes.

“It will be huge. When I got here, the goal was to win an AFC Championship and get to the Super Bowl and win that,” Mahomes said. “For me, to try to do that very early in my career would be a huge thing for me, learning and showing you’re able to win with the team you have around you. I’m going to trust in my teammates that we can go out there and play the game we’ve been playing this entire year and try to win a big game on a big stage.”

Tight End Travis Kelce

3. Kelce was asked about how he developed his chemistry with Mahomes, who has earned a reputation for the backyard play or throwing the ball with a unique arm angle on occasion.

“Reps is how you develop it. Just going through the motions of training camp and even in games knowing that the play is not always dead and that he’s always going to try to find a new way to get you the ball,” Kelce explained. “It’s just a continuous effort to maintain concentration. That is probably the biggest thing between him and Alex [Smith] is that Alex was always right on top of the ball and it came out pretty much the exact same way. With Pat, the flight of the ball might be a little bit different – he might throw you a little bit of a screwball or a slider here or there – but it will get to you eventually, and you just have to make sure you concentrate all the way into the hands.”

The duo seems to have developed a steady connection during their first season together, as Kelce hauled in a franchise-record 103 catches for 1,336 yards – the second-most by a tight end in NFL history - and 10 touchdowns this year.

Linebacker Justin Houston

4. Houston, one of the Chiefs’ longest-tenured players, was asked about the magnitude of this moment and if it prompts reflection on some of his former teammates who never had this chance.

“I do [think about that]. I talk to the young guys and explain that situation and tell them how important this situation is. Not too many guys get this opportunity,” Houston said. “I’ve played with some of the great ones who have played here and they never had this opportunity, so take advantage of this opportunity. Let’s make the best of it.”

Tailback Damien Williams

5. Williams discussed his journey from season-ending shoulder surgery a year ago to now playing a significant role on a team vying for a conference championship.

“It was crazy because I got hurt playing the Patriots there [in 2017],” Williams explained. “The whole journey from getting hurt, coming here and having the Chiefs actually take a chance on me and being in the position that I’m in now is something that I can’t really speak on and I think that’s why you see it in the way I play. I play with a lot of passion because it means a lot coming back from the shoulder injury.”

As Williams indicated, the Chiefs took a gamble on the veteran running back this offseason and it’s certainly paid off. Williams has been a force in Kansas City’s offense of late, racking up 476 total yards and five touchdowns in the Chiefs’ last four games.

All four players will take the field this Sunday with the Lamar Hunt Trophy on the line.

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