HOUSTON — The Houston Texans largely avoided Chiefs return man Tyreek Hill on Sunday.
The strategy –– which called for lots of punts toward the sideline –– made sense. For the Texans, owners of some of one of the league’s worst coverage units (at least by the numbers), challenging Hill ––arguably the league’s fastest man, with a keen sense for reading his blocks on returns –– made little sense.
But with the Chiefs ahead by 12 midway through the fourth quarter, and the Texans badly needing a stop, they inexplicably ended up punting to Hill ... who promptly made them pay.
Hill fielded the punt, darted toward the right corner, rocketed upfield on one cut and dashed untouched toward the end zone for an 82-yard punt return that not only gave the Pro Bowl return man his first special-teams score of the season, but also effectively buried the Texans in the Chiefs’ 42-34 win in front of an announced crowd of 71,835 at NRG Stadium.
With the win, the Chiefs, who remain the NFL’s only unbeaten team, pushed their record to 5-0.
And while Hill finished the job, many of his teammates played starring roles in this win, not the least of which was quarterback Alex Smith, who continued his strong start to the season with another terrific performance.
Smith, who finished 29 of 37 for 324 yards, with three touchdowns and zero interceptions, tortured the Texans all game long, often drifting away from trouble, keeping his eyes downfield and delivering darts.
That, in fact, is how the Chiefs scored their first touchdown of the game.
After a pair of field goals by kicker Harrison Butker spotted the Chiefs a 6-0 lead in the second quarter, Smith –– who faced third-and-5 at the Houston 8-yard line –– slid to his left and held onto the ball long enough for running back Charcandrick West to pop open. Smith delivered a dart for an 8-yard touchdown that put the Chiefs ahead, 13-0.
And after the Chiefs added another field goal to push their lead to 16-0, it appeared the Texans –– who seemed dazed following game-ending injuries to defensive stars J.J. Watt and outside linebacker Whitney Mercilus –– might be on the receiving end of a blowout.
But their rookie quarterback, Deshawn Watson, has a reputation as a gamer for a reason. And Watson, who won over so many with his epic performance in Clemson’s national championship win over Alabama in January, proceeded to show off his grit all night, a process that began with a scoring drive that was capped by a 6-yard touchdown throw to receiver DeAndre Hopkins.
The Chiefs answered immediately. Smith capped a seven-play, 75-yard march that only took one minute, 15 seconds with another short touchdown pass to West, who dodged an oncoming tackler and hopped into the end zone for a touchdown that gave Kansas City a 23-7 halftime advantage.
Again, Watson –– who finished the night 16 of 31 for 261 yards, five touchdowns and zero interceptions –– refused to fold. After the two teams exchanged fruitless drives, Watson again led his team down the field, capping a 78-yard march with a 9-yard touchdown pass to receiver Will Fuller V.
The two-point conversion attempt to Fuller was incomplete, however –– cornerback Marcus Peters had the coverage –– and the Chiefs still led 23-13 with 4 minutes left in the third quarter.
The Chiefs extended their lead to 13 with another Butker field goal –– his fourth of the day –– but Watson again responded. Facing second-and-6 at the Chiefs’ 48, the dynamic rookie danced away from trouble and uncorked a gorgeous deep ball downfield to Fuller, who hauled it in over cornerback Terrance Mitchell for a touchdown that cut the Texans’ deficit to 26-20 with 12 minutes left.
NRG Stadium was rocking at that point, the hope of Watson’s terrific throw lifting fans’ spirits.
But with the Chiefs needing a response, Smith, the 13-year veteran, responded.
On the first play of the ensuing drive, Smith threw an 18-yard out to tight end Ross Travis. Two plays later, Smith found receiver Chris Conley for a 15-yard gain along the left sideline.
And after a darting 23-yard run by Kareem Hunt, Smith tossed a little shovel pass to receiver De’Anthony Thomas, who sped around the left corner for a 10-yard touchdown that put the Chiefs ahead by 12 and silenced the crowd with 9 minutes left.
That gave the Chiefs a somewhat-comfortable 32-20 lead with nine minutes left in the game, one that would only grow larger when the Texans inexplicably kicked to the dangerous Hill, who put the nail in Houston’s coffin with a score that not only pushed the Chiefs’ lead to 19, but drove scores of blue-and-red clad fans to the exits instead of watching the Chiefs put the finishing touches on a win that dropped their team’s record to 2-3 on the season