Teammates admire Chiefs LB Justin Houston’s record-setting season

KANSAS CITY, Mo. – Chiefs outside linebacker Justin Houston had a record-setting performance during Sunday’s 19-7 win against the San Diego Chargers.

Dec 28, 2014; Kansas City, MO; Chiefs outside linebacker Justin Houston (50) sacks Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers (17) at Arrowhead Stadium. Credit: John Rieger-USA TODAY Sports
Dec 28, 2014; Kansas City, MO; Chiefs outside linebacker Justin Houston (50) sacks Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers (17) at Arrowhead Stadium. Credit: John Rieger-USA TODAY Sports

Houston recorded four of the team’s seven sacks on Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers, pushing Houston’s league-leading total to 22 sacks, a new Chiefs single-season record.

The fourth-year pro’s third sack on Rivers broke Pro Football Hall of Fame linebacker Derrick Thomas’ previous mark of 20 sacks established in 1990.

While sacks on the opposing quarterback are virtually guaranteed to get a home crowd pumped up, Chiefs players have enjoyed observing Houston’s onslaught the entire season.

“Legend, man,” defensive end Kevin Vickerson said. “I told him that’s greatness. He talks about it all the time he wants to put his name on that board. He wants to put on one of those (Hall of Fame) yellow jackets at the end of his career. He has the right mindset. I couldn’t be happier for him.”

Cornerback Sean Smith agreed.

“There’s nothing like covering a guy and you look up and the crowd is screaming already before the wide receiver gets out of his break,” Smith said. “It’s always a good thing. I’m proud of him. He definitely deserves every last bit of credit he gets.”

Sunday’s game was briefly paused when Houston broke Thomas’ record with a strip-sack on Rivers at the 11:35 mark of the third quarter as a congratulatory message flashed on the Arrowhead Stadium jumbotron announcing Houston’s accomplishment.

Houston, who played the 2014 season in the final year of his contract, also became one of 10 players since sacks became an official statistic in 1982 to record 20 or more sacks in a single season.

The enormity of the moment struck safety Ron Parker.

“I know I got one of the greatest players and I’m on the field every week playing and practicing with him,” Parker said. “It’s a great feeling to be on the field with somebody great like that.”

Inside linebacker Joe Mays, a seventh-year pro, knows what it’s like to play with some of the NFL’s elite pass rushers.

Mays has been teammates with outside linebacker Von Miller of the Denver Broncos and defensive end J.J. Watt of the Houston Texans, and drawing similarities came natural.

“It compares because the size, the speed aspect of it,” Mays said. “Von Miller, he was a freak of nature as far as the speed he possesses. J.J. Watt, he’s strong, physical and he can run, too.

But after spending a season in Kansas City, Mays has unique perspective on how he believes Houston compares with Miller and Watt.

“I think Justin is just different,” Mays said. “His speed, his strength combination is like none other. He can run you down or he can run through you. He’s definitely one of the best athletes I’ve played with.”

The significance of Houston’s single-season production was overshadowed because the Chiefs were knocked out of the postseason despite Sunday’s win.

And while the Chiefs finished on a high note and with a 9-7 record, reflecting on the individual triumph will have to wait another day for the man setting the record.

“It hasn’t hit me yet,” Houston said. “I’m still disappointed we’re not going to the playoffs. I think that hurt more than anything. It’s a team game. It will mean a lot one day, but today I’m more disappointed we’re going home next week instead of playing for the big thing.”