Coach Andy Reid said last week that he felt good about his 2015 Chiefs going into Sunday’s game in Houston. Reid also admitted he wasn’t quite sure what to expect from his club in the season opener against the Texans.
That’s what having five new starters on the offensive line will do to a head coach’s level of confidence.
If he was feeling good on Friday, then Reid was delighted on Sunday. Thanks to a dominating first-half performance, the Chiefs rolled to a 27-20 victory over Houston at NRG Stadium.
Only a fourth-quarter comeback by the Texans kept the score close, although the outcome was not in doubt after quarterback Alex Smith threw three touchdown passes in the first half, two to tight end Travis Kelce. Running back Jamaal Charles caught the other score and Cairo Santos hit two field goals as the Chiefs built a first-quarter lead of 14-6 that they pushed to 27-9 by halftime.
“All in all I’m very happy,” Reid, who is now 5-0 on his career against the Texans, told reporters after the game. “This is a tough place to play, and against a good football team. To come out and do that was a tribute to the guys.”
Among the biggest contributors to the victory were the big guys on the offensive line: left tackle Donald Stephenson, left guard Ben Grubbs, center Mitch Morse, right guard Laurent Duvernay-Tardif and right tackle Jah Reid.
In that group, Morse and Duvernay-Tardif were making their first NFL starts and Reid had not even been with the Chiefs for a full week when he stepped in for the injured Eric Fisher (ankle).
They allowed only two sacks of Smith, both by Houston defensive end J.J. Watt and the Texans touched the quarterback just three times in 35 passing plays. Big nose tackle Vince Wilfork was not credited with a tackle and former NFL No. 1 draft choice linebacker Jadeveon Clowney did not get near Smith
“In general they did a good job against a good defensive line, a good front seven,” Reid said. “I thought are guys for the most part did a good job … we have to keep getting better.”
Most of the way, the Chiefs defense played at the same high level as their offense. Although allowing 396 yards, they forced a pair of turnovers by the Texans and drove starting quarterback Brian Hoyer out of the action. Hoyer and his replacement Ryan Mallett were sacked five times by four different defenders. Those Houston giveaways turned into 14 points for the Chiefs.
“It’s tough to turn the ball over a couple of times and win the game,” Reid said. “With that we were able to score points … and get up fairly quickly and decisively. As with any quarterback in the league, if you get to him early, it’s tough sledding. We were able to get there and make him uncomfortable.”
The kicking game contributed as well, as Santos and punter Dustin Colquitt controlled field position, forcing the Texans to start 12 of their 14 possessions at or inside their 20-yard line. De’Anthony Thomas averaged 16.2 yards on five punt returns and the outcome was secured when wide receiver Jeremy Maclin grabbed an onside kick and the Chiefs ran off the rest of the fourth-quarter clock.
Kelce finished the game with six catches for 106 yards and touchdown catches of 10 and 42 yards. Charles had 103 yards on offense, including his 7-yard touchdown reception.
“It was fun to get out there and finally put it all on the line,” Kelce told reporters after the game. “We’ve been waiting so long for week one and obviously when you get the victory it’s huge.”
The Chiefs first possession did not serve as a precursor for the afternoon as they drove into Houston territory, but saw the Texans tip back-to-back passes by Smith at the line of scrimmage, forcing one of seven Colquitt punts. But Hoyer’s first start in the Lone Star state began with an interception by Chiefs rookie cornerback Marcus Peters on a poorly thrown pass.
“Before the game I told them (teammates) I was going to make my plays when they come,” Peters, who got the start at left cornerback and finished with seven tackles and broke up three passes, told reporters.
With great field position at the Houston 13-yard line, the Chiefs needed only two plays to score, with Smith and Kelce connecting on a 10-yard throw in the end zone for a touchdown.
The next time the Chiefs got the ball, the field position was not nearly as good – their 17-yard line. But a hot Smith moved the offense down the field on eight plays, hitting four of five passes. The touchdown came on a play-action fake when Kelce got away from the Houston defense and was wide open for a 42-yard catch/run and his second touchdown of the half.
Houston quickly returned serve as Hoyer finally got the Texans offense into a forward gear. They went 80 yards on eight plays before wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins caught a 10-yard touchdown pass, outjumping Peters in the end zone for the score. Kicker Randy Bullock missed the PAT kick and the first quarter ended with the Chiefs holding a 14-6 lead.
The Chiefs added 13 points in the second quarter on field goals from Santos of 27 and 48 yards. Their touchdown was set up by a Texans turnover, as linebacker Justin Houston knocked the ball out of Hoyer’s hands on a sack and defensive end Allen Bailey recovered at the Texans 7-yard line. Smith connected on a short throw to Charles who outran the defenders to the end zone.
“We got the couple of turnovers in the red zone and were able to capitalize and I think in the end that was the difference,” said Smith, who completed 67 percent of his passes for an average of 7.4 yards per attempt and a 118.6 passer rating.
Charles’ touchdown was the last time the Chiefs saw the end zone, as the offense struggled through the second half, picking up just 109 yards and they penetrated the Texans 40-yard line just once on seven possessions. Houston added an 8-yard touchdown pass from Mallett to Hopkins and Bullock hit a 47-yard field goal in the fourth quarter to set the final score.
Only twice in the previous 10 seasons did the Chiefs win the opening game. In both years (2010, 2013) they ended up in the playoffs.
“A game likes this builds confidence,” Kelce said. “Right now our team is sky high.”
They will have to come back to earth quickly, because on Thursday night the mile high boys will be in town for an early AFC West showdown.
“It’s important how we handle it as coaches, as players,” Reid said of the quick turnaround to play Denver. “When given an opportunity to rest, you rest. Get off your feet, take care of bumps and bruises and then take care of business. We’ve got to get ready for a great opponent coming in Denver.”