The Kansas City Chiefs beat the Houston Texans 27-20 on Sunday and their performance in the first half had fans high-fiving in the city’s sports bars and tongues wagging all over Twitter (#ChiefsKingdom). The two other winning AFC West teams survived big-time scares at home to keep pace with the Chiefs. The only team to lose was, of course, the Oakland Raiders who played like … well … the Oakland Raiders.
Denver used a late Aqib Talib interception return for a touchdown to come from behind and beat the Baltimore Ravens 19-13. San Diego got off to a rocky start, falling behind the Detroit Lions at home, but Philip Rivers threw for 404 yards and brought the Chargers back for a 33-28 win. And finally, the Cincinnati Bengals didn’t get the memo that Oakland was a team on the rise this year and steamrolled the Raiders 33-13 in a game that wasn’t even that close.
Now that the Chiefs, Broncos and Chargers sit atop the division with a 1-0 record and the Raiders try to forget being 0-1, let’s discuss five things we learned about the Chiefs Sunday – and something we might have learned about the other three AFC West foes.
1. Alex Smith likes his toys this year. Even Smith-haters have to admit that Smith looked like a different quarterback with experienced receivers who can get separation from defenders. Smith’s throws even seemed to have more zip.
2. A tip of the cap to the offensive line. KC steamrolled the Texans in the first half with five guys that weren’t technically on the team this time last year, and one (right tackle Jah Reid) that wasn’t on the team the Sunday before. Smith, for the most part, had time to throw and even with three Pro Bowl-quality (and two Hall of Fame worthy) players on the Texans defensive line. A good start for this group but it won’t get easier Thursday against the Broncos.
3. Dustin Colquitt is still a weapon. The Chiefs punter came within about seven inches of having two punts get downed inside the Texans 2-yard line. Unfortunately the coverage guys’ toes touched the goal line on both punts resulting in touchbacks to the 20. Even without those two close calls, Colquitt buried four of his seven punts inside the 20 and had hang times of 4.5 seconds or more on every kick. In a game where field position won the contest, Colquitt deserves more kudos.
4. Travis Kelce has a chance to be elite. In honor of the other-worldly style and play of Patriots tight end, Rob Gronkowski the Twitter-sphere immediately christened Travis Kelce “Baby Gronk” after he punctuated his 42-yard touchdown catch by punching the ball like Muhammed Ali. The Chiefs got spoiled with the play of Tony Gonzalez for all those years and it looks like Kelce might be ushering in a new era of elite tight end play at Arrowhead.
5. Justin Houston deserves every penny of his contract. If you watched the highlight shows last night, Texans defensive end J.J. Watt deservedly got PLENTY of attention for the game he had. Even Chiefs fans had to agree that his helmet-less sack of Alex Smith was pretty cool. However, coaches around the league – and in the city of Houston for sure – will tell you that linebacker Justin Houston had more impact in the game.
Houston caused two turnovers for the Texans when he shoved the right tackle into quarterback Brian Hoyer’s face and caused him to float the throw on Marcus Peters’ interception on their first play from scrimmage. Later in the second quarter, Houston strip-sacked Hoyer for a fumble and another turnover. Both plays gave the Chiefs the ball deep in the Texans territory and led to 14 points for KC. Watt looked prettier, but Houston changed the game.
And around the rest of the AFC West, we learned that:
DENVER: The Broncos defense played their usual dominating game in the friendly and raucous confines of Sports Authority Field, but that won’t be what anyone will be talking about this week. Ninety-nine percent of the discussion will be how mortal quarterback Peyton Manning looked. Peyton Manning just simply isn’t the same guy that rewrote the record books two years ago. It’s time for the Chiefs to stop wetting their pants about #18 every time he steps on the field starting Thursday night.
SAN DIEGO: With Detroit up 21-3 in the second quarter, the Chargers’ fans might have been wondering if it was worth the trouble keeping the team in San Diego. But then Philip Rivers got going and reminded people why the club signed him to an $84 million contract extension in training camp. Rivers is the kind of quarterback that won’t be fully appreciated until he retires. If the Chargers move and are taken out of the AFC West, I’ll be pulling for Rivers to get a Super Bowl win if the Chiefs are out of it.
OAKLAND: Ouch! The Raiders spent the entire off-season hiring competent coaches, signing quality free agents, having a surprisingly good draft, and were determined to change the mojo in the Black Hole. Unfortunately, a blowout loss at home saw the Raiders prized franchise quarterback, Derek Carr, lost for the game with a hand injury. X-rays showed no broken bones, but Carr’s hand was so swollen he couldn’t grip the ball so back-up Matt McGloin finished the game. Jack Del Rio is a good coach and will get it turned around there, but they’ll be playing in L.A. by the time that happens.
UPDATE 5:30 p.m. CT, Monday: The Raiders are reporting that Carr has a bruised thumb and could play this week. Unfortunately, it will be against the strong Ravens defense.