The Houston Texans scored three quick touchdowns in the first quarter and jumped out to a stunning 24-0 lead over the Kansas City Chiefs. But Patrick Mahomes willed the Chiefs to victory, scoring a touchdown on seven straight possessions to win 51-31 and advance to the AFC Championship. The Chiefs will host the 6th-seeded Tennessee Titans with a trip to the Super Bowl on the line.

Setting the Stage

Background, How the Teams Got Here, The Stakes at Hand – Feel Free to Skip Ahead to Game Recap

Last week, the Houston Texans overcame a 16-0 hole against the Buffalo Bills to win in overtime and advance to the Divisional Round of the playoffs.

Deshaun Watson led the Texans to a 10-6 record in the regular season, good for 1st place in the AFC South. Houston wasn’t a dominant team persay, but came up with some big wins. Notably, the Texans outdueled the Chiefs 31-24 when the two teams met in the regular season.

The Kansas City Chiefs had a ton of question marks at 6-4 with an injured Patrick Mahomes both playing through the pain and missing a couple games. These losses to the Colts, Texans, Packers, and Titans seemed to put a temporary end to the juggernaut team that reached the AFC Championship last year. Three of those four teams would make the playoffs, raising a fair question about just how good these Chiefs were.

But after that 6-4 start, the Chiefs rattled off six straight wins, highlighted by a 23-16 revenge victory over the New England Patriots. The road upset would prove to be huge, earning Kansas City a first round bye and forcing Tom Brady to play in the Wildcard Round for the first time in over a decade.

With the Tennessee Titans defeating both the Patriots and Baltimore Ravens, the AFC is wide open for the taking. The winner of this game will host the AFC Championship with the 6th-seeded Titans playing visitor.

Game Recap

In contrast to last night’s near-70 degree temperature at kickoff, this matchup was a cold one in Kansas City, Missouri, with a 19 degree temperature at 3:05 PM ET/ 2:05 PM local time.

The Houston Texans would receive the opening kickoff. After a couple of unproductive plays to start the drive, Watson hit Wil Fuler on 3rd-and-9 to get Houston’s offense going early.

Three plays later, Kenny Stills found himself COMPLETELY wide-open about 30 yards down the field. Watson floated an easy pass to Stills, who completed the 54-yard touchdown play untouched and unhindered by a single Chiefs defender.

The score gave the Texans an early 7-0 lead, and you can’t ask for anything more out of an opening drive on the road.

The game immediately took a dramatic turn on the next series. Mahomes hit an open Travis Kelce on a third down attempt, but the tight end dropped the pass. On the next play, Colquitt’s punt was blocked by Barkevious Mingo, recovered by Lonnie Johnson Jr, and returned for a 10-yard touchdown. The crowd was quickly silenced, and Houston had jumped out to a 14-0 lead with 10:06 to play in the first quarter.

The Chiefs would move the ball more on their second drive, with Mahomes connecting on first down passes to Kelce and Tyreek Hill. On 3rd-and-5, Mahomes again found an open receiver, but Demarcus Robinson couldn’t ended another drive with a dropped pass.

The Texans next drive would be creative and fruitful. Using options and a little misdirection, Houston began ripping off big runs. A 10-yard gain on an option flipped to Duke Johnson, a 7-yard scramble by Watson, and a 7-yard first down pickup by Carlos Hyde had the Texans firing on all cylinders on the ground.

This also opened up the passing lanes for Houston’s offense. Watson hit on his first six passes before missing on a deep ball to Stills. The Texans drive would stall on the next play, as Watson was sacked standing up by Chiefs defensive end Frank Clark.

Kansas City put Tyreek Hill back deep for a punt return: just his second attempt of the season. As the announcers explained, he was usually relegated to returning only in key situations. Hill probably should have called a fair catch, with defenders oncoming. Instead, he kind of let the ball hit his hands and fall to the ground, where it would be recovered by the Texans on the Chiefs 6-yard line.

Watson was stopped again standing up on a rushing attempt at the endzone. When I say standing up, I mean the Chiefs defenders weren’t actually able to bring him down, but the plays were blown dead due to lack of forward progress.

A play later, Watson found Darren Fells in the endzone for an easy 4-yard score. This would give the Texans an astonishing 21-0 lead in the first quarter of a road playoff game. 21 points was a franchise record for Houston in the first quarter of any of the 298 games the team has played.

With panic starting to creep in, Andy Reid called three shotgun passes from Mahomes, all of which fell incomplete. This would force the Chiefs 2nd 3-and-out. The starting offense had to yet to commit any grave sins, although short drives are never great. But with the hole their special teams put them in, the Chiefs were down 21-0 in the blink of an eye.

To start the second quarter, the Texans had a short field to work with thanks to a good punt return. A Watson power run for a first down was negated by a 10-yard holding penalty, but Watson still kept the drive alive with a 13-yard pass to Deandre Hopkins. A couple plays later, he would find Stills for 15-yards, already knocking on the red zone door.

On 4th-and-1, Bill O’Brien nearly went for it, searching for a fourth touchdown that would amount to a killshot in the second quarter. Instead, Fairbairn kicked a 31-yard field goal. Technically, the Texans lead remained three scores (if the Chiefs converted three 8-point touchdowns.)

Finally, the Chiefs got some kind of spark, as Mecole Hardman returned the kickoff 58 yards to set up the offense at Houston’s 42-yard line.

Mahomes and the offense wasted no time keeping the momentum on their side. The quarterback found Kelce for 25 yards before connecting with Damian Williams for a 17-yard touchdown on the very next play. Just like that, the Chiefs were on the board.

Reid and the Chiefs decided not to go for 2 points on this touchdown, with 40 minutes of football yet to be played. There’s no telling where the Texans final point total would land, so there was no point in risking safe extra points this early.

Things started to get kooky when, after a quick three-and-out, the Texans attempted a direct snap fake punt on their own 31-yard line. It wasn’t the worst playcall ever, as they had ball carrier Justin Reid one-on-one with a defender on the outside. But Reid was brought down, and the Chiefs would take over with a short field.

Mahomes started the drive with a couple deeper shots, the second one a strike near the goal line where defensive pass interference was called on Lonnie Johnson, attempting to cover Kelce. Mahomes would then try twice to feed Kelce a touchdown pass, connecting the second time for a short score.

All of a sudden, it was 24-14 with 8:05 left in the second quarter. In less than two minutes of game time, the Chiefs scored two touchdowns to cut into the Texans lead and make the game interesting.

That would’ve been a pretty crazy, memorable sequence all on its own. But we weren’t done yet.

On the Texans kickoff return, the football popped out of DeAndre Carter’s hands and floated softly into the hands of the Chiefs Darwin Thompson. The running back advanced the ball 18 yards to the Texans 6-yard line.

On 3rd-and-goal, Mahomes found Kelce again for another short score. In just a span of 3 minutes and 24 seconds of game time, the Chiefs had scored 21 points on three touchdowns.

The game’s script had been completely flipped on its head. The Texans 24-0 lead had been all but erased, as a 3-point lead against Mahomes and the Chiefs is hardly a lead at all. Still, the Texans led the game, 24-21 with 6:37 left to play.

Just as the tide of the game had changed, the Texans offense suddenly had some trouble moving the ball. Houston was able to pick up one first down on a 10-yard pass to Hyde, but were unable to convert on 3rd-and-12 (Hopkins may have been prematutely contacted, but nothing blatant in real-time.)

The Chiefs would get the benefit of the doubt on a pass interference call, however. Lonnie Johnson was called for defensive pass interference on Kelce for the 2nd time in the quarter, netting Kansas City 15 yards.

Mahomes would find Hill for a 20-yard gain before taking off on a 21-yard run himself. Whatever questions the Chiefs offense was facing in the first quarter had seemingly been answered before halftime.

After a botched attempt at a Sammy Watkins pass, the Chiefs let #15 work his magic as usual, connecting on 20-yard pass to a seemingly covered Kelce. Mahomes would go to his legs again on the next play, scrambling for 14 yards to set up a first-and-goal.

The Chiefs would appear to take the lead on 3rd-and-goal, with a nifty pass from Mahomes to Kelce. But even in real-time, it was pretty apparent that Mahomes had passed the line of scrimmage prior to passing the ball. Upon further review, they actually confirmed the touchdown.

Just as quickly as the Texans built themselves a 24-0 lead, the Chiefs had scored 28 straight points to erase it and take the lead. The touchdown was Mahomes 4th passing score of the quarter, and Kelce’s third touchdown reception.

With no timeouts and just 38 seconds to go in the half, the Texans felt the need to be aggressive, especially with Kansas City set to receive the second half kickoff. Watson was able to connect on a 38-yard heave to Hopkins, as well as advance the ball 6 yards to create a manageable field goal attempt. Fairbairn’s 51-yard field goal attempt missed wide right, and the Chiefs would hold on to a 28-24 lead heading into halftime.

After the break, Kansas City didn’t break stride, quickly driving down the field to begin the half. The drive was ignited by a 48-yard catch by Hopkins, where Mahomes had a free play after a Texans defender jumped offside.

While he used his legs seldom in the first quarter, Mahommes continued his second quarter scrambling trend with runs of 7 and 14 yards to set the Chiefs up in the redzone. For the first time, the Chiefs rushed the ball in for a touchdown, with Damian Williams earning the 1-yard score.

Williams was flagged for taunting after the play, placing the football in front of the Houston defender that attempted to prevent him from scoring. The referee warned an additional unsporstmanlike penalty would have Williams ejected from the game.

Perhaps poetically, Butker’s extra point attempt was no good. This would leave the Chiefs with a 34-24 lead with 11:24 to play in the third quarter. It would also be Kansas City’s fifth touchdown in as many drives, scoring the game’s last 34 points.

An illegal formation penalty and a Frank Clark sack on Watson would halt the Texans next drive before it even began.

The Chiefs got back to business on their next chance with the ball. Mahomes found Kelce for 29 yards on the first play of the drive. A neutral zone infraction and a 19-yard defensive pass interference penalty on Bradley Roby set up a first-and-goal from the Texans 7-yard line.

After unsuccessful attempts on first and second down, the Chiefs committed a false start, turning a 3rd-and-5 into a 3rd-and-10. Houston seemed to have the play well defended, but they were called for holding, their third defensive penalty of the drive.

You can stop the Chiefs three times in the red zone, and usually that would force a field goal.But if you give them extra plays, they’re going to score. The Chiefs would do just that, plowing ahead with a 5-yard Williams touchdown run. It was his 2nd straight score and the Chiefs 6th score in six possessions.

41-24 with 4:39 left to play. In the third quarter. I’m not sure the game will end up going too far over the length of a normal football game, but it’s felt like a long one with nine total touchdowns scored so far.

Watson started moving the ball quickly on the Texans next drive, with a 21-yard catch by Hopkins and an 11-yard first down pickup by Stills. On a crucial 3rd-and-6, Watson was flushed out of the pocket but found Hopkins for a toe-tapping sideline grab.

The Texans attempted a double-reverse, receiver becomes the quarterback play very much like the one the Chiefs attempted with Watkins earlier. Stills danced with the ball, and seemed to get a pass away in the direction of Watson. But the referees ruled he did not avoid the sack, a 14-yard loss for the Texans.

The loss wouldn’t mean a thing though, as Watson heaved a deep pass to Fuller for a 39-yard gain to set up first-and-goal. On the next play, Watson swung the ball to the outside and reached in for the Texans first score since the first quarter.

The Texans broke their scoring drought, cut the Chiefs lead to 10 points, and gave themselves a fighting chance: IF they could stop the Chiefs from scoring a touchdown on a 7th straight drive.

Mahomes ended the third quarter with a 23-yard pass to Kelce, keeping the Chiefs in control heading into the final period. On the other side of the quarter change, Mahomes had a 13-yard “passing play,” (in reality, a quick flip a couple feet in front of him, essentially a jet sweep running play) to Hardman. Mahomes would then find Watkins for 28 yards, then finally cap the drive with a touchdown pass to tight end Blake Bell.

7 drives, 7 scores, 48 points over 30 minutes of actual game-time dating back to the beginning of the second quarter. It was Mahomes 5th passing touchdown of the day, extending the Chiefs lead back to seventeen points at 48-31.

The Texans looked like they might’ve had a drive on their hands after a 20-yard completion to Hopkins, but they faced 4th-and-4 on Kansas City’s 42-yard line. While Bill O’Brien absurdly wanted to punt the ball, Watson was able to convince the coach to call a timeout and go for it.

The pass from a pressured Watson never had a chance, and was nearly picked off.

On their next drive, the Chiefs were finally denied a touchdown. Though Mahomes made a similar plea to Andy Reid to go for it on 4th-and-2, Reid opted for a 20-point lead with a short field goal.

In what would be the Texans last chance, if you even wanted to give them that, Watson picked up a couple first downs through the air. Fells had a couple drops as well, but ultimately, Watson couldn’t connect with Hopkins on 4th down to effectively end the game with 4:53 left to play.

Houston would have a chance to score again on 4th-and-goal, where Watson was dropped for 17 yards by Frank Clark.

Highlighted Stats

Quarterback Comparison

KC Patrick Mahomes: 22/35. 321 yards, 5 TD, 0 INT (134.6 Rating) (7 rushes, 53 yards)

HOU Deshaun Watson: 31/52, 388 yards, 2 TD, 0 INT (95.7 Rating (6 rushes, 37 yards, TD)

Skill Positions

KC Travis Kelce: 10 catches, 134 yards, TD

HOU Deandre Hopkins: 9 catches, 118 yards

HOU Wil Fuller: 5 catches, 89 yards

KC Damien Williams: 12 rushes, 47 yards, 2 Rush TD (1 Rec TD)

HOU Carlos Hyde: 13 rushes, 44 yards

Team Stats

  • First Downs: KC 29, HOU 23
  • Total Yards: KC 434, HOU 442
  • Rushing Yards: KC 118, HOU 94
  • Passing Yards: KC 316, HOU 348
  • Turnovers: KC 1, HOU 1
  • Time of Possession: KC 25:25, HOU 34:25

Player of the Game

Honorable mention to Travis Kelce for sure.

But it’s hard to give the player of the game to anyone but Patrick Mahomes. The quarterback played nearly a perfect game. Seven straight touchdown drives, eight straight scoring drives, and even on the Chiefs early failed drives, it was drops to blame and not Mahomes. With his arms and legs, he led the Chiefs out of a 24-0 hole and somehow won by 20 points in the end.

Moving Forward

The Chiefs advance to the AFC Championship for the 2nd straight season, after taking the New England Patriots to overtime last January. Mahomes, Reid, and the Chiefs are back, and motivated by their failure to reach the Super Bowl last year. As the home team and best offensive team in football, the Chiefs will easily be favored over the Tennessee Titans to represent the AFC in the Super Bowl.

That’s not to say the Titans won’t have a chance though. After knocking Tom Brady and Lamar Jackson out of the playoffs, anything is possible for Tennessee. If the Titans had a 24-0 lead over the Chiefs, Kansas City might not see the ball much after that, assuming a heavy dose of Derrick Henry.

For the Houston Texans, this year was the 6th playoff appearance and 4th Divisional Round appearance by the franchise since the 2011 season. Still, Houston remains the only franchise to never reach the Conference Championship round.

The Texans will likely be back in the postseason for more years to come, with a solid core and an electric young quarterback in Deshaun Watson.

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Header Photo Credit: David Eulitt/Getty Images

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