After 22 years without a playoff victory, the Kansas City Chiefs were determined not to give up the lead this time.
The Chiefs had enough points to win after jumping ahead 7-0 in the first 11 seconds, and they used relentless pressure, five turnovers and a ball-control offense to dominate the Houston Texans 30-0 in the wild-card round of the NFL playoffs on Saturday.
They were especially cognizant of not letting up after blowing a 28-point lead in a loss to the Colts in their last playoff appearance in 2013.
“What happened to us a couple years ago, everybody remembers that even the coaches included, so our entire mentality is about finishing,” quarterback Alex Smith said. “The mentality doesn’t change.”
They finished off the Texans early, and they had the hometown fans booing by the second quarter. Texans quarterback Brian Hoyer had the worst game of his career with four interceptions and a fumble. Houston’s defense kept the Texans close in the first half, but JJ Watt left with an injury in the third quarter, Jadeveon Clowney never even put on his jersey and the Chiefs were able to close the game out in the second half.
The Chiefs extended their NFL-best winning streak to 11 games and will face Denver or New England next week.
“We wanted to come in and dominate,” Chiefs safety Eric Berry said. “Right now we are locked in and ready for next week.
On the opening kickoff, Knile Davis got three good blocks around the 10-yard line and then simply outran the rest of the defenders for the 106-yard kickoff return score, the second-longest kickoff return TD in postseason history.
“It was a huge deal, man. It set the tempo,” Davis said. “It quieted everybody, kind of made everybody relax.”
The defense took over after that, forcing Hoyer into a fumble and a three of his career-high four interceptions before halftime to help the Chiefs (12-5) take a 13-0 lead.
“I made some bad decisions that really hurt the team,” Hoyer said.
Houston coach Bill O’Brien said he never considered benching Hoyer, but backup Brandon Weeden told a different story, saying he was warming up late in the game.
“We had talked about me going in there with Brian,” Weeden said. “Brian wanted to finish the thing out. I don’t blame him.”
Smith threw a touchdown pass late in the third and Spencer Ware added a 5-yard TD run on the first play of the fourth quarter to make it 27-0.
Travis Kelce, who also had more than 100 yards receiving in the first meeting with the Texans this year, had another big day, finishing with eight receptions for 128 yards.
The victory breaks a streak of eight straight playoff losses by the Chiefs and is their first postseason win since beating the Oilers in January 1994. That team was led by Joe Montana and Marcus Allen.
“Was it 1994? I didn’t feel it, but I know how important it is, too,” coach Andy Reid said. “You get to the playoffs, and first round, if things don’t go well, that rips your heart out.”
Hoyer was 15 of 34 for 136 yards as Houston (9-8) lost a home playoff game for the first time. Hoyer’s performance cast more doubt on his future as the starter.
Watt missed most of the second half after injuring his groin in the third quarter. Last year’s Defensive Player of the Year and the NFL sack leader didn’t have a sack as Houston’s defense played well but couldn’t hold off an offense that got so many extra chances because of turnovers.
Watt returned a few plays after he was initially hurt, but soon left the game again when he was pushed to the ground by the head by tackle Eric Fisher.
“That’s just a dirty play,” Watt said. “But the injury was before that moment.”
Fisher said he didn’t know the play was over. Kansas City receiver Jeremy Maclin strained his right knee on the same play and didn’t return.
The Chiefs capped that drive when Smith found rookie Chris Conley in the back of the end zone for 9-yard touchdown that extended the lead to 20-0.
Houston defensive end Jared Crick got a personal foul late in the third quarter when he hit Fisher after a play, in an apparent retaliation for the Watt hit.
Down 7-0, the Texans were driving when Hoyer was sacked by Allen Bailey and fumbled. Dontari Poe recovered it at the Kansas City 42 and the Chiefs extended their lead to 10-0 on a 49-yard field goal.
Trailing 13-0, a 49-yard run by Alfred Blue got Houston to the Kansas City 13. The Texans got a first down at the two and Watt and defensive tackle Vince Wilfork came in on offense, with Watt lined up as the wildcat quarterback and Wilfork blocking. Watt took the direct snap but had nowhere to go and lost a yard on his first career carry. Hoyer was intercepted on the next play by Josh Mauga.
Hoyer had also struggled against the Chiefs in the season opener, being benched in the fourth quarter of a 27-20 loss.