By Michael Hurley, CBS Boston
BOSTON (CBS) — Blown leads happen. Blown big leads happen. Blown big leads against good teams playing in their own stadium happen. This is sports, after all.
Yet even with that being understood, the swiftness with which the Houston Texans blew their 24-0 lead in Kansas City on Sunday afternoon was unfathomable. It was nearly impossible.
The Texans took a 24-0 lead with 10:58 left to play in the second quarter. They trailed 28-24 with 50 seconds left in that same second quarter. They lost the football game by 20 points.
That is impossible.
To blow a lead that large that quickly, you have to actively try to blow it. And though it stands to reason that Bill O’Brien really wanted to win this football game, his actions on the sideline kind of indicated otherwise.
The sixth-year head coach was in his sixth postseason game (he was also an assistant coach for eight Patriots playoff games) yet spent most of the final two hours of this game looking bewildered and befuddled at his state of existence.
The first real moment of disarray came when O’Brien wanted to go for it on a fourth-and-1 at the Kansas City 13-yard line. Following an 8-yard completion from Deshaun Watson to Duke Johnson on third down, the offense stayed on the field. Watson looked to the sideline for a play call. It never came.
Timeout. Field goal.
After the game, O’Brien explained that moment like this:
“I felt like I had a first down there and when I didn’t, I just felt like we didn’t have a great play there for the fourth down at that point in time. So, I felt like it was better to kick the three but that’s a very fair question. I felt like it was just better to kick the field goal there.”
Based on the footage, it does not appear that O’Brien had a distinct feeling of kicking the field goal until after the scramble that led to the calling of a timeout.
Nevertheless, the kick was good, and the Texans took a 24-0 lead. The ensuing kickoff was returned 58 yards, and the Chiefs were in the end zone just 58 seconds after the field goal.
Still, at 24-7, another lengthy scoring drive for Houston could help stifle any Chiefs momentum. Instead, the Texans went into a bit of a safety shell on offense, going run, run, pass and having nothing to show for it except a fourth-and-4 at their own 31-yard line. While the result of that drive was no doubt a disappointment for O’Brien … you absolutely have to punt the football away in that situation. There are times when a fake punt is a worthwhile risk; trying to extend a drive at your own 31-yard line is not one of those times.
In a perfect world, even if the fake punt were to have been successful, the Texans still would have needed at least 25 yards just to get into field-goal range. Conservative play-calling after a successful fake punt would have only led to … a punt.
That best-case scenario didn’t really matter much, though, because Justin Reid ran directly at Daniel Sorensen in the open field.
This is a helluva play by Daniel Sorensen to snuff out the fake punt.
Watch Sorensen before the snap: he was all over this — very focused. He's moving with Reid the whole way. pic.twitter.com/p86GnMJQGe
— Terez A. Paylor (@TerezPaylor) January 12, 2020
Four plays later, a Chiefs touchdown. A 24-14 ballgame. And a stadium that suddenly believes.
“We felt like we had to manufacture some points, manufacture some yards and it just didn’t work out,” O’Brien tried to explain. “When you’re playing a team that is that explosive on offense, you got to try and keep scoring.”
To be clear: Running a fake punt on your own 31-yard line on a fourth-and-4 manufactures no points. Going for it on a fourth-and-1 at the opponent’s 13-yard line, though, could very well help you turn three points into seven. Alas.
Of course, a fumble by DeAndre Carter on the ensuing kickoff was not O’Brien’s fault, but the state of pandemonium O’Brien put his team in during a road playoff game where it was completely unnecessary to do so appeared to have been the moment from which the Texans could never recover.
It didn’t help, either, when the Texans trailed by 17 points in the fourth quarter and O’Brien was apparently riding on autopilot. The head coach sent the punt team onto the field on a fourth-and-4 at the Kansas City 42-yard line, at which point Watson had to ask the coach what in the world he was doing. Watson held up four fingers, as if to offer a reminder to O’Brien that less than 12 minutes remained in the game.
A somewhat stunned O’Brien awoke, and then scurried down the sideline to burn a timeout before sending the offense back onto the field in a situation where going for it was obviously necessary.
The play coming out of that timeout was not successful.
What a mess.
No matter what outcome you were hoping to see, you had to have been disappointed by the Texans’ crumbling after taking that 24-0 lead. It was tough to watch.
Some more scattered thoughts from the Sunday games of divisional weekend in the NFL playoffs ….
–It would probably be unfair to spend so much time on O’Brien without mentioning defensive coordinator Romeo Crennel. Definitely would be unfair …
But, hey, Romeo is a legend, so we need not worry about fairness at this particular moment in time.
–The Chiefs obviously won this game and won it with authority. But the franchise’s history at Arrowhead in the playoffs is still remarkably bad.
The Chiefs played their first home playoff game at Arrowhead in 1991. They beat the L.A. Raiders 10-6. They beat the Steelers in overtime at Arrowhead in the ’93 postseason, too. A promising 2-0 start.
Since then, though, the Chiefs are just 2-6 in playoff games at Arrowhead. Had it not been for O’Brien’s series of goofs and the Texans’ penchant for falling apart, we’d all be talking about 1-7.
That’s just something to keep in mind when discussing next weekend’s AFC Championship Game.
–There was quite a bit of hullabaloo regarding the spot of Jimmy Graham’s reception that allowed Green Bay to drain the clock and beat the Seahawks. Understandably so.
With respect to the national Twitter discourse, it probably didn’t matter too much, because the aggressiveness that Green Bay was displaying in the final minutes of that football game suggested that they probably would have gone for it on fourth-and-inches. That’s a lot of maybes, but the point is, the Packers put themselves in position to win the game by gaining just a few inches. Whether they were awarded by the officials/replay crew or earned the old-fashioned way was the only point up for debate.
And while I do think the ball was short of the line to gain (because I have eyeballs), my bigger concern is with the entire mechanism of measuring first downs in the NFL.
For one, you’ve got this official humping his way up the sideline trying to see where the football is inside the body of the 6-foot-7, 265-pound Graham as he falls to the turf:
I do not expect the down judge to be able to get that call right. That would be mostly impossible.
But I still don’t need that guy jogging up the sideline, completely guessing, and clearly giving the ball carrier an extra yard for no real reason:
Watch that closely. He runs to the line to gain, hops with two feet past it, then jogs in toward the middle of the field at an angle, back toward the line to gain, then signals for a first down.
What an insane process.
–One more thing: As everybody draws their red lines and such …
— B/R Gridiron (@brgridiron) January 13, 2020
Remember this: The first-down marker you see at the top of the screen is not official. The official chains were on the near side of the field on the TV broadcast. There were no chains at all on the far side; it’s merely someone approximating where the first-down marker sits 50 yards across from him on the other sideline and holding the marker in place.
The yellow line? You may have heard over the past 25 years that it’s not official. But neither is that first-down marker we’re all looking at.
Here’s where that set of downs started, for reference:
Based on that, the yellow line appears to be more official than the first down marker at the top of the screen.
In the end, none of us know what’s real or what’s right. But we have no faith in Al Riveron and the on-field officials to get it right … ever. It’s a sweet system, really.
–OK just ONE MORE thing: What in the WORLD was this about?
— AJP (@pricey43) January 13, 2020
Forget the specific call and just focus on the process.
–A call on the field is made.
–An official review is initiated by the replay assistant.
–Al Riveron reviews the play in New York and makes a final ruling.
–That ruling is announced and enforced.
–“Additional footage” comes in. The final ruling is now not official?
–Riveron reviews the additional footage which he did not have when he made his official ruling minutes earlier.
–Riveron makes updated decision.
–That decision is announced and enforced.
It really shouldn’t be this difficult. Yet the NFL has a knack for complicating even the simplest of events.
–Those officials also managed to take a potential possession and potential points away from the Packers by blowing a clear fumble dead earlier in the game, too. So for all the Packer conspiracy theorists … it’s always easier to just lean on officiating incompetence.
–The Chiefs scored 51 points despite about a half-dozen drops in the first half, and a muffed punt for a turnover. Four of Patrick Mahomes’ first 12 passes were touchdowns. Just felt like pointing that out. Mike Vrabel and the uber-confident Titans defense have their work cut out for them.
–Some people ran to the internet to try to say that the Chiefs’ comeback over the Texans was somehow bigger or greater or more spectacular than the Patriots’ comeback from a 28-3 deficit against the Falcons in Super Bowl LI. With respect … those people should run a lap.
I could get into the element of time (the Patriots fell behind by 25 points with just 22:29 left in the game, and they trailed by 19 points with under 10 minutes to play, and they trailed by 16 points with less than six minutes to play … ), or the element of facing the team that emerged as the best from their conference, or the element of stage, or the element of the non-existent margin for error … but that would all be unnecessary.
How soon people forget. Such a shame.
–The Titans beat the Ravens with 217 rushing yards. The 49ers beat the Vikings with 186 rushing yards.
The Chiefs scored 51 points and won by 20, with just 118 rushing yards. The Packers beat the Seahawks with just 109 rushing yards.
Do I have a larger point? No. I do not. But I will absolutely watch the fight that plays out between the RUNNING BACKS DON’T MATTER crowd and the SMASH MOUTH FOOTBALL WILL ALWAYS RULE folks.
–On a similar note: Ryan Tannehill has won playoff games this month by completing seven passes and then eight passes in his two starts. That … does not happen often … let alone on consecutive weeks.
As best I can tell, a quarterback has won a playoff game while completing 8 or fewer passes for 88 or fewer yards 16 times in the Super Bowl era. Ryan Tannehill accounts for 12.5% of those instances in just the past 10 days. Patriots are the losers of 2 of the most recent 3. pic.twitter.com/eIGXs0ieZF
— Michael Hurley (@michaelFhurley) January 13, 2020
Shoutout to Bob Griese.
–The Packers aren’t great. But this is:
Packers QB Aaron Rodgers on third down vs. Seahawks:
7/9 for 121 yards, 1 TD, 13.4 yards per attempt, 155.6 passer rating. 3 completions over 20 yards. 3 first downs in the fourth quarter. And one successful QB sneak.
— Zach Kruse (@zachkruse2) January 13, 2020
–The Pete Carroll run in Seattle is fascinating. On the one hand, they won a Super Bowl and they’re seemingly always contending. On the other hand … since losing Super Bowl XLIX, they’re just 3-3 in the playoffs, and they’re 0-3 in the divisional round.
Russell Wilson is outstanding, as there’s no quarterback on earth who can make more out of less. But with the season ending with another whimper from the Seahawks, it does feel like they’re continuing to waste the prime of Wilson’s career — at least to some extent.
–Call me soft if you must, but this is a nice ending:
The game was over. Yeah that’s my boy , but I’m not fake tough, I don’t have to hit you to make me feel like imma big beast. This is football, but every act isn’t violent. https://t.co/KmNl7zDEhF
— Tyrann Mathieu (@Mathieu_Era) January 13, 2020