KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- It says something when a team can play as poorly as the Houston Texans did and still beat a Super Bowl contender on the road. They weren't done in by myriad mistakes, countless penalties or a kicking game that was painfully erratic. All the Texans did was overcome all those issues in securing a 31-24 win over the Kansas City Chiefs. In the process, they also served notice that they can be as dangerous as any team in the AFC when they have their heads on straight.
Sunday's win at Arrowhead Stadium was far from pretty. The Texans had 10 penalties, a missed field goal, a missed extra point, a slew of dropped passes and a fumble on their first offensive play. Normally, the Chiefs destroy a team's will when all those problems occur. Houston apparently isn't built to fall apart under such circumstances this season.
The Texans did more than just win a big game in a hostile environment. They displayed plenty of heart in doing so.
"It feels great," said quarterback Deshaun Watson after the win. "It's a wonderful feeling to be able to deal with all the adversity, the ups and downs within the flow of the game and to be able to keep fighting for 60 minutes. That's what we did. We never got discouraged. We kept fighting, pushing and building, and that's the biggest part of this locker room. Everybody is always fighting until the end."
It's hard to recall an early regular-season win that meant as much to the Texans since Bill O'Brien became their head coach in 2014. Yeah, they've won the AFC South three times in his past five seasons, but it never felt like this team was truly whole. The Texans were good enough to reach the postseason some years but bad enough to win just one of four games once they qualified for the playoffs (with that one victory coming over a Connor Cook-quarterbacked Raiders team). They just always seemed to be lacking that elusive quality that helps teams thrive in more adverse situations.
That is why this win in Kansas City was such a strong statement about what this team is made of. The Texans gave up an inexplicable 46-yard touchdown pass from Patrick Mahomes to Tyreek Hill on the first possession of the game -- a play that started in a third-and-21 situation and ended with Hill outjumping two Houston defensive backs for the ball before fighting his way into the end zone. Then on Houston's first drive, Chiefs defensive end Frank Clark stripped running back Carlos Hyde of the football and recovered it to set up a 41-yard field goal by Harrison Butker. By the time Mahomes hit running back Damien Williams for a 14-yard touchdown pass, the Chiefs had a 17-3 lead near the end of the first quarter.
There were many reasons for the Texans to wilt at that stage. Instead, they kept clawing back into the contest with an effective game plan. Watson controlled the tempo with a variety of short to intermediate passes. Hyde found a rhythm behind an offensive line that had its way against Kansas City's feeble run defense. Houston's defense also stiffened.
"We just played our fundamentals," Texans safety Justin Reid said. "We've got ballers. We've got playmakers across the board: D-line, linebackers, DBs. Once we figured them out, we started learning their plays a little bit. We started calling out their plays from our game plan and we just locked up."
The Texans essentially followed the same blueprint that has plagued the Chiefs for the last four games -- run the football, dominate time of possession, play man defense and pressure the hell out of Mahomes. The Chiefs managed to beat two opponents who successfully employed that technique (the Ravens and Lions). They've now lost to the last two teams that used it, as the Coltsdealt the Chiefs a 19-13 loss in prime time last weekend. The numbers that Houston amassed were impressive against Kansas City, as it controlled the ball for nearly twice as long as the Chiefs did (39:48 to 20:12) and ran for 192 yards. The Texans finished with 472 total yards, while the Chiefs gained just 309.
"They just let me be myself," Hyde said when asked about his success with the Texans. "(They) let me play my game. (They) let me get downhill. (They let me) do what I do best. You can't just focus on me. There are so many other guys on this team that are a threat and can take over the game at any moment."
The Texans displayed that versatility on what ended up being the game-winning drive. Trailing 24-23 with 14:49 left in the fourth quarter, Watson led his team on a 12-play, 93-yard drive that ended with his 1-yard touchdown run. The possession was a microcosm of the entire game, as the Texans had to deal with three offensive penalties that could've thwarted their momentum. They just kept grinding their way downfield against the Chiefs. They just kept finding a way to produce critical plays that could help their cause.
"We were just taking what they were giving us," said Watson, who passed for 280 yards, ran for another 42 and scored three touchdowns (two rushing) to go along with two interceptions. "Moving the ball downfield, trying to sustain possessions, keeping Patrick off the field and letting our defense get some rest."
The end result of that strategy is the Texans and Chiefs are both 4-2 but facing different challenges. The Chiefs have to play at Denver on Thursday night before running into a gauntlet of games against several difficult opponents -- the Packers, Vikings, Titans and Chargers are on their schedule before their bye week. Houston simply wants to keep building on what it accomplished in Kansas City. Its next test will be a road trip to AFC South rival Indianapolis in Week 7.
The Texans realize they have plenty to clean up before that meeting. As O'Brien said, "This is a really good win and we had a good win last week, but 4-2 gets you nowhere." The point the head coach was making is that this is just the beginning for this version of the Houston Texans. If they keep battling as they did against the Chiefs, there will be more rewarding endings to come in the very near future.