Chiefs look to end playoff woes against Texans on Saturday
HOUSTON >> The previous time the Kansas City Chiefs won a playoff game Bill Clinton was President and Tonya Harding's ex-husband had just been arrested for hiring someone to attack figure skating rival Nancy Kerrigan.
Kansas City (11-5) has lost eight postseason games since that win over the Oilers in Houston on Jan. 16, 1994, and will return to the city to face the Texans on Saturday in the wild-card round, looking to snap this lengthy skid.
The Chiefs, who have won a franchise-record 10 straight games, insist they won't be thinking about their years of playoffs woes when they line up to meet the AFC South champion Texans.
"I don't think this team's carrying that weight, to be honest," quarterback Alex Smith said. "Those were the other 22 years and 22 teams. This is us."
So instead of thinking about playoff failures that include Lin Elliott's three field-goal misses against Indianapolis in 1995 and the 28-point lead they blew against the Colts two years ago, they're simply focusing on the challenge of dealing with Houston.
"Since 1-5, it's been a playoff atmosphere," Kansas City linebacker Derrick Johnson said. "It was kind of a win or go home type deal. We've been winning for 10 weeks straight — that doesn't guarantee us an 11th win, but we do have some momentum ... (but) we have to play our best game if we're going to win in Houston."
The Texans are perhaps this season's most improbable playoff team after winning seven of their last nine games to rebound from a terrible start to finish 9-7 and return to the postseason for the first time since 2012.
They did it with four different quarterbacks and after losing star running back Arian Foster to a season-ending Achilles tendon injury in October. Houston got a boost from a defense led by NFL sack leader J.J. Watt that finished strong, allowing a league-best 12.7 points a game in its last nine games.
Saturday's game will be the season's second meeting after a 27-20 win by the Chiefs in the opener.
"We were down 27-9 in the first half. That's not going to win any playoff games," coach Bill O'Brien said of that first meeting. "I think we have to look at it to learn from some of the things we did there. But ... we have to make sure we know both teams are very different."
Some things to know about the Chiefs-Texans playoff game.
SAVORING THE MOMENT: Houston's youngest player, 21-year-old rookie receiver Jaelen Strong, knows to appreciate being in the playoffs because there's no guarantee of returning. If he wasn't already savoring the moment, he was reminded to do so by the story of 39-year-old punter Shane Lechler, who hasn't been to the postseason since 2002 with the Oakland Raiders.
Strong was in elementary school that year.
"As a rookie, I just want to do what they tell me to do, do my job and work as hard as I can because I know there are guys that haven't been to the playoffs since I was probably like 8 years old," Strong said.
Lechler shook his head when told Strong was only 8 the last time he reached the postseason.
"I told the guys ...: 'Don't take this stuff for granted. These chances don't come around too often,"' Lechler said. "I had veteran guys like Rich Gannon, Jerry Rice and Tim Brown tell me that and I didn't listen. I took it for granted my first three years and it took me a long time to get back."
SACK ATTACK IS BACK: Chiefs linebacker Justin Houston will play for the first time since Nov. 29, when he hyperextended his knee in a game against Buffalo, and fellow pass rusher Tamba Hali will not be limited after playing a handful of snaps last week following surgery on his broken thumb. That means the Chiefs' defense — allowing 17.9 points, third-best in the NFL — should be even better.
"I know he's excited about the opportunity to get back out there," defensive coordinator Bob Sutton said of Houston, an All-Pro last season. "He'll be ready to roll."
ALSO RETURNING: This time a year ago, Eric Berry was in the middle of chemotherapy treatment for lymphoma. Now, the Pro Bowl safety is anchoring the Kansas City secondary as it prepares for DeAndre Hopkins and Co.
"There's more at stake, more on the line. But we just keep raising the level," he said, "and go about it that way."
DYNAMIC DUO: Watt had 17 1/2 sacks this season and outside linebacker Whitney Mercilus finished with 12 to give Houston the only duo with at least 12 sacks each in the NFL and give the Texans two players with at least 10 for the first time in franchise history. Mercilus finished the regular season strong, piling up 5 1/2 sacks, with one forced fumble, one fumble recovery and one pass defensed in December to earn AFC defensive player of the month honors.
REDEMPTION FOR HOYER?: Houston quarterback Brian Hoyer had two turnovers in the first meeting with the Chiefs before he was benched in the fourth quarter in favor of Ryan Mallett. Hoyer is back to starting for the Texans after returning last week following his second concussion in less than a month. Despite those struggles early against the Chiefs, he doesn't view this game as a chance at redemption.
"It's not a personal vendetta of me versus the Kansas City Chiefs," Hoyer said. "They played us tough, and it was tough for us to have success against them. So I think if anything that's a challenge, again, to go against these guys."
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