Defense is shredded once again in playoff rout

After perfect start, Texans get their dreams crushed in season-ending 51-31 loss to the Chiefs in divisional playoffs

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For a quarter, the Texans dreams were coming true. Dreams of hosting an AFC Championship Game. Dreams of making it to that game for the first time in franchise history. Dreams of upsetting the Kansas City Chiefs.

In the second quarter, they woke up to a harsh reality that did not end until the game was over.

After racing to a 24-0 lead, the Texans collapsed, giving up 28 second-quarter points en route to losing to the Chiefs 51-31. The Chiefs will host Tennessee next week in the AFC Championship. The Texans will spend an off-season thinking about what might have been.

A tale of two quarters

The game could not have started any better. The Texans marched right down the field on their opening drive and scored when Deshaun Watson hit Kenny Stills for a touchdown pass on a busted coverage.

After the Chiefs dropped a third-down pass, the Texans blocked a punt, returned it for a touchdown and led 14-0.

Kansas City muffed a punt inside the 10, the Texans recovered and it was 21-0. After a field goal early in the second quarter, it was 24-0. The dreams began in full force.

Then it all collapsed.

The Chiefs got a big kick return after the field goal, then quickly scored on two plays. On the next possession, the Texans went three and out, then inexplicably faked a punt deep in their own end and failed. Kansas City quickly made it 24-14. On the ensuing kickoff, Deandre Carter fumbled the ball away, setting up another Kansas City score, and it was suddenly 24-21, and the Texans were essentially beaten. The Chiefs would march 90 yards to finish the quarter to take a 28-24 halftime lead they would never relinquish. Eventually they would score 41 straight points en route to the victory.

Microcosm of the season

The game unfortunately showed us what the Texans are. At times, a dominant, unstoppable force. At times, a clueless group that can't get out of their own way. We saw both on Sunday. So many times they made us think they could be special. The win at KC early in the season. The win over the Patriots. Key divisional victories over the Titans and Colts.

They also made us think they were hopeless. The loss in Baltimore. The home loss to Denver. We saw both teams on Sunday. The defense, a wreck all year, was at its worst. They could not stop tight end Travis Kelce, or anyone else for that matter. They could not get any pressure on Patrick Mahomes. They gave up chunk plays. The Chiefs are an extremely talented offense, but the Texans gave almost no resistance. In fact, they gave up touchdowns on SEVEN straight possessions, and none of them were ever in doubt. Whether or not it was personnel, Romeo Crennel, or a combination, major changes need to happen on that side of the ball.

It really is a shame. They came up short in a bizarre game that they had every chance to put away early. But the Chiefs are one of the most explosive offenses in football, and giving them short fields turned the game around.

The bottom line

What does it all mean?

Let's face it, the Texans were not supposed to win this game. They were 9.5-point dogs. But when you get out to a 24-0 lead, you start to believe and a trip to the AFC title game would have been unprecedented. Playing a familiar foe in Tennessee might have even meant a first-ever trip to the Super Bowl. But that's what the Texans are. Left to dream. They will have all off-season to ask those questions.

The truth is, the Chiefs were the better team. Better players. Better coaches. Sunday was on defensive coordinator Crennel more than anyone. His team not only could not stop the Chiefs, they gave up huge play after huge play. It was like watching LSU play McNeese State.

The Texans needed to play a perfect game to win. It started off that way. But they could not sustain it.

What's next?

Instead, they start looking to next year. How can they improve with no real draft picks? How can they fix the defensive issues? How many years does J.J. Watt have left? Does Bill O'Brien make staff changes? Are they really close to being a Super Bowl contender? How can they fix the pass rush? The secondary? Is it time for Crennel to ride off into the sunset after another year of horrible defense?

For a brief while, it felt like it could have been so much different. But then the Chiefs woke up. And so did the Texans, unfortunately.

It was a tough way to end a season that at times showed promise, and at times looked hopeless. The first quarter was the former. The second was the latter. The second half was a victory lap for the Chiefs.

And the Texans season died, right where it was expected to, in the second round of the playoffs.

Turns out hoping for anything more was just a dream, one that was all too brief.

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Houston's losing streak extended to five games

With key Astros missing, Detroit completes the series sweep

An overall bad day for the Astros on Wednesday. Photo by Dylan Buell/Getty Images

On Wednesday afternoon, the Astros received a big blow to their chances in the series finale against Detroit and potentially longer. Five players: Jose Altuve, Alex Bregman, Yordan Alvarez, Martin Maldonado, and Robel Garcia would all be moved to the IL due to health and safety protocols, leaving them scrambling to get a whole team together for the game against the Tigers.

The Astros would not be able to overcome both the loss of players and the onslaught of another strong start by Detroit in Wednesday's game which put them too far out front for Houston to come back from to avoid a series sweep.

Final Score: Tigers 6, Astros 4

Astros' Record: 6-6, third in the AL West

Winning Pitcher: Michael Fulmer (1-0)

Losing Pitcher: Lance McCullers Jr. (1-1)

Tigers knock out another starter early

Detroit continued their success of making Houston's starter work hard in early innings, getting after Lance McCullers Jr., and giving him an early exit. After a lengthy fist, they broke through in the second getting two hits, a walk, a hit batter, and an RBI groundout to put up three runs on 34 pitches.

He would have a quicker 1-2-3 third, but after giving up a single, a walk, and hitting another batter to load the bases and reach 87 pitches, he would be removed in favor of Joe Smith. Smith would allow all three of the inherited runners to score, adding those runs to McCullers Jr.'s final line: 3.2 IP, 4 H, 6 R, 6 ER, 3 BB, 3 K, 87 P.

Astros try to claw back into it

After Smith would go on to load the bases again in the inning, still with two outs, Houston made another pitching change to bring in Brandon Bielak to get the third out and stop the bleeding at 6-0. The Astros would get on the board in the fifth, getting a runner on base to set up a two-run homer by Jason Castro to cut the lead to 6-2.



Bielak remained in the game to try and eat up as many innings as possible. While he continued to hold the Tigers to their six runs through the six innings, the Astros clawed back into the game. In the bottom of the sixth, Houston put their first two batters on base with a walk and single before an RBI-single by Yuli Gurriel to make it 6-3. They would threaten for more but be held there for the time being.

Astros can't cash in, Tigers complete sweep

Ryne Stanek was Houston's next reliever in the top of the seventh, getting a 1-2-3 frame to keep it a three-run game, as did Brooks Raley in the eighth. In the home part of the inning, the Astros put their first two runners on base on an error and a walk, then loaded them with a one-out single by Carlos Correa. They'd waste their chance to make something happen, though, with an inning-ending double-play.

Ryan Pressly, who had no save opportunities in recent games, entered to get some work in the top of the ninth. He worked around a leadoff double for a scoreless inning, sending the 6-3 game to the bottom of the ninth. The Astros had yet another chance to make something happen, loading the bases with no outs to bring the go-ahead run to the plate. After two outs, Yuli Gurriel would bring one run in with a walk, but that's as close as they'd come, extending their losing streak to five games and getting swept by the Tigers.

Up Next: Houston will get a much-needed day off tomorrow to try and leave this poor homestand behind them. They'll pick things up in Seattle on Friday, with first pitch of the opener of three games at 9:10 PM Central. The expected pitching matchup is Jose Urquidy (0-1, 5.23 ERA) for the Astros and Yusei Kikuchi (0-0, 3.75 ERA) for the Mariners.

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