Every now and then, there comes a person who takes on society’s demons and faces truths that must be dealt with in order for everyone to move forward. Throughout history and time, these people step out of the shadows to achieve their true purpose and set the world right again. The community they save will forever cherish and sanctify the unselfish acts committed by this noble person.
Today, I will be performing such an act. I will be revisiting the Texans’ brutal loss to the Kansas City Chiefs in the 2019 AFC Divisional Playoff Round. My goal is simple: to purge this team and its fan base of last season’s ills and cleanse the team before tomorrow night’s game against the Chiefs. It will be exactly 250 days since that fateful game when the Texans face those same Chiefs at Arrowhead Stadium. While there’s zero significance in that number, it’s the same amount of significance achieved from the impact of this article.
The game tomorrow night offers an opportunity to not only close the book on a terrible memory, but open a new one in the 2020 season with a strong start. Defeating the Super Bowl champions, at their house, and playing the first game of the NFL season all amount to a miraculous chance to move on from last year’s debacle.
The vividness of this day and the emotions surrounding it are hard to purposely bring back to the forefront. I remember. I was in the middle seat of a packed car heading back from Tahoe with my friends. None of whom were Texans fans, but they knew that for the next couple of hours, the game was the only thing that mattered in the world. The Titans had won the night before, and the possibility of an AFC South Championship Game being hosted in Houston was staring us directly in the face. The Texans had beaten the Chiefs in Arrowhead Stadium earlier in the season, so there truly was nothing holding us back from taking an unprecedented step for this franchise. With the stage set and my fingers tightly gripped to the driver and passenger metal head seat support, I plugged my phone into the aux and began streaming the game on my phone (the legality of said streaming service is not to be questioned).
What would ensue in those fateful hours would come to define Houston sports and set a course for an unprecedented offseason of changes and moves.
As I turn on NFL Game Pass now and perch my headphones softly over my ears, I begin to enter the Twilight Zone of Houston Texans...
The second I press play, I am greeted by Jim Nantz stating, “The Texans have been notoriously slow starting this season”. Right out of the gate, this made me physically shudder, like a ghost passed through my soul and a wicked, screeching laugh thundered across the room. Either the light bulb in my room started to flicker, or my eye began to twitch in hysteria; either way, the ominousness of that line within 15 seconds of the replay was not lost on me.
With the first play from scrimmage, Deshaun Watson passes to DeAndre Hopkins. At this point, I pause the game, turn to my right, and openly ask the air, “Am I being trolled right now?”
Several plays later, on third and one after several successful plays in a row, the Texans draw up the fake bubble pass trick play that landed Kenny Stills in the end zone. Kansas City is utterly stunned, immediately down by seven, feeling that they’re in a world of trouble three minutes in. I’m impressed by the creativity and gutsiness of this move after not seeing this play for quite some time.
Score: Texans 7-0.
When the Chiefs take the field on offense, their offense looks tense; there’s a false start, a timeout, and a pass dropped on consecutive plays. The mood on the faces of Chiefs players is stunningly frightened.
Then, Barkevious Mingo blocks a punt. Lonnie Johnson Jr. strolls into the end zone and runs into the tunnel. It’s the best thing that either player did that entire season. At this moment, I’m giggling with manic anticipation of what is to come. I physically clasp my head in wonder how this amount of momentum could have even been possible. Jim Nantz corrects himself with a “Who said they’re slow starters?” rhetorical question.
Score: Texans 14-0.
This quarter is taking forever to re-watch, which isn't bad because I can continue to live in this fanciful dream scenario.
THEN BOOM. Tyreek Hill drops a punt after a solid Texans drive that is recovered by Keion Crossen. Two plays later, Darren Fells catches a quick zip throw right at the goal line. This is fun. I’m having fun. No, I’m not currently rocking myself in the fetal position trying to go back to this happy place. I’m just imagining Houston decorated in golden statues erected to in honor of Bill O’Brien’s genius.
Score: Texans 21-0.
At the same time, this all feels fake. None of this was earned. It’s all Kansas City’s mistakes. We’re just recipient of a self-inflicted collapse. I’m hearing boos from the KC fans. This is unreal. Kansas City is in full mental breakdown. I wish I could go back and live bet the Chiefs at this moment. Put me in the Delorean and at least give me something positive from this impending nightmare scenario.
As we enter the second, quarter, mentally prepare yourself. As with all good things, especially in Houston sports, they must come to a cataclysmic end.
Let’s skip ahead to 3rd and 9 with the Texans pressing inside the Chiefs’ red zone. The play before, Fells dropped a pass flung at his direction, which if caught would have made this third down play significantly easier. Duke Johnson scrambles for eight and a half yards; if he got nine yards, there’s a likelihood Houston plays in the AFC Championship Game.
I truly forgot this happened: the Texans decided to go for it on fourth down, but someone wasn’t ready. The play clock was at 14 seconds when Watson entered the huddle and O’Brien was forced to call a timeout. They decide to then go for a field goal now that they have lost the element of surprise.
Ultimately, the Texans have to come away with points here. A four-possession game with the Chiefs not even able to pass a sobriety test at this point is a fair decision to make. Unlike many others, I stand by O’Brien’s decision to kick the field goal.
Score: Texans 24-0.
Immediately, Mecole Hardman gashes an over-extended Texans special teams and sets the Chiefs up in Houston territory. Lonnie Johnson, who has been covering Travis Kelce, steps out of the game with a leg injury. This in my opinion is the real turning point. The next play, Kelce makes a huge play against Justin Reid. One play later, Damien Williams walks into the end zone because Jacob Martin purposefully bumped Kelce off the line of scrimmage instead of seeking out Williams.
Score: Texans 24-7.
Even after re-watching this, I wasn’t aware of the cracks in the Texans defense that were about to be sledge-hammered open.
After a quick three-and-out, we arrive at the play that should have gotten O’Brien fired. It’s fourth and four from the Texans’ 36. The end zone view shows Justin Reid sheepishly pacing in the backfield in the punt formation. I now know that if Reid ever had to take a lie detector test, he’d fail because his body and nervous energy are a dead giveaway of a fake punt. We all know what happens, but I cannot believe that actually happened. Mainly I’m upset because it feels as though the conservative field goal was mentally offset by a ultra-aggressive fake punt.
Annnndddd..... here we go. Lonnie Johnson interferes with Kelce to give KC the ball inside Houston’s five. Two plays later Kelce muscles Johnson and the ball into the end zone. Even at this point, the Texans have given KC a nice gift of short field position.
Score: Texans 24-14.
Within a matter of seconds, DeAndre Carter lets loose a kickoff return fumble. It looks like something out of a Super Smash Bros. game. Immediately, Kelce snags another TD against Johnson. I feel sick. I’ve entered the Sunken Place.
Three TDs allowed in 3:24 of game time. I wasn’t around for the Oilers loss to the Bills, but I feel like I can now connect to fans of that generation.
Score: Texans 24-21.
The rest of the game becomes a blur or repetitive Texans miscues and Chief capitalizations. Even as things calm down and the wild sequence of plays end, everything feels...onimous.
Halftime Score: Chiefs 28-24.
As the third quarter begins, I flush back out of this immersed state and realize the second half resembles the truest form of these teams. The next 30 minutes will epitomize who these franchises are at this moment in time. When Ka’imi Fairbairn missed that field goal to end the second half, it felt like things are not going to turn around. They have reverted to the Texans we know, while Kansas City has assumed the form they’d win the Super Bowl with.
It’s announced that DeAndre Hopkins has a rib injury, another issue I blocked out of my memory. It didn’t have too big of an impact on the game, as what begins to unfold is a masterpiece of a KC offense engorging on a mismatch. Travis Kelce takes the Texans’ defense and bends it to his will. Houston threw the entire kitchen sink at him, but Kelce gashed Romeo Crennel’s unit with precision.
Score: Chiefs 34-24.
Score: Chiefs 41-24.
The Texans’ defensive miscues, paired with their inability to pressure Patrick Mahomes, catalyze to a Chernobyl-level meltdown. You don't have to be a palm reader to feel the energy of this team. They’re stunned, defeated, and there’s still an entire quarter and a half to play.
Then, another play scrubbed from my faculties: Texans called a double reverse pass for Stills to throw the ball to (maybe) Duke Johnson. The play worked as well as the Nintendo GameCube still sitting in my childhood bedroom. The fact that this play was called by a professional football coach is astounding. The desperation at this moment is so palpable that there’s no way they are going to come back even after Will Fuller catches a dime from Watson inside the five.
Once again, DW4 wills this team through every self-made barrier in existence. A diving effort to score gives the Texans a chance to get back into the game even when they have physically given the game away at this point.
Score: Chiefs 41-31.
Houston’s defense takes the field. Without skipping a beat, they revert back to every issue that had plagued them to this point. Kelce receptions. Defensive penalties. No pass rush. Inability to cover speed. The constant shaking of my head is making me dizzy. I re-engage in the fetal position and brace for the fourth and final quarter.
Score: Chiefs 48-31.
The monotony of the Chiefs slicing through the Texans defense impales my body as the last dire moments of this purge come to pass. The fourth quarter is not worth delving into. Both teams know what the end result will be. Watson’s valiance is not lost on me, but it’s evident he begins to panic, press the ball into poor passes, and hold onto the ball too long.
Final Score: 51-31.
A wind swirls through my chest and I’m flung back onto my couch. Gasping for breath, it’s either the scorching record heat in my San Francisco apartment, or we’ve fully purged last year’s finale from our collective spirits.
There are two things I learned while re-watching this game. First is that the better team won. Yes, thank you, it’s obvious that the eventual Super Bowl champions beat a team that was about five plays away from being 7-9 (I can recite them in the comments if needed), but it’s important to come to terms with our inferiority as we enter the 2020 season.
Second, self-infliction is an inherent flaw of the Houston Texans. Whether it’s the Rosencopter or Matt Schaub’s pick-sixes or DeAndre Carter’s kickoff return fumble against the Chiefs, the Texans do tend to get in the way of themselves.
2020 may not be any different, but at least the path has been cleared to start the season afresh and anew.