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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Jose Altuve will look to put his stamp on the series in Game 3. Photo by Christopher Pasatieri/Getty Images.

While things certainly could have gone better at certain points in Games 1 and 2, the ending result of both games has been perfect for the Astros, who travel to Seattle with a 2-0 series lead over the Mariners. Justin Verlander struggling in his start and the offense having to rely on the super-human hitting ability of Yordan Alvarez are two things you hope normalize in the rest of Houston's postseason run.

ALDS Game 3 will be in Seattle on Saturday afternoon, with Lance McCullers Jr. trying to give his team a good start to help them move towards a three-game sweep and get some time off before the ALCS. Outside of his performance, there are two other storylines from Games 1 and 2 that need to be looked at for Game 3:

Houston's bullpen needs to keep it up

In the first two games of this series, only one Seattle run has come against a Houston reliever; Eugenio Suárez's seventh-inning solo home run off Cristian Javier in Game 1. That's one lone run over 8.1 innings of work by Houston's bullpen.

If the Astros are to go far this postseason, they'll need more of the same because with the potential teams they are lined up to face in the ALCS and World Series, even the stout rotation of Houston won't be able to go deep into every game along the way. Speaking of that rotation, that's one reason the bullpen got even better when the regular season ended.

Hunter Brown, who transitioned to the bullpen before the season's end, has continued to impress on the mound in relief, including his scoreless eighth in Game 1, which helped keep the game in reach before Yordan's massive homer won it. Javier, as mentioned, has already come in out of the bullpen as well, leaving the Astros with Jose Urquidy and Luis Garcia as two starter-caliber players that could either get plugged into the starter's role in a potential Game 4 or be ready to piggy back Justin Verlander if the Astros choose to start him on short rest.

No matter how things develop, it appears that Houston's pitching strengths continue to put them in an advantageous position in this ALDS series against the Mariners and beyond.

Jose Altuve needs to spark the offense

While Yordan Alvarez's seven RBI through the first two games are incredible, and Houston has also had clutch hits by Kyle Tucker, Alex Bregman, and Yuli Gurriel, it's Houston's leadoff man that has been surprisingly quiet so far. Altuve is 0-for-8 with a walk so far in the ALDS, a stat line that certainly won't continue, but how much he improves may be the key.

I'll be shocked if Jose Altuve doesn't take a hack at the first pitch of ALDS Game 3 if it's anywhere near the zone, as has been his trademark approach for much of his time as a leadoff hitter. If he can connect, it may just be the momentum-grabber that helps lead the Astros to a big offensive day that could win them the series.

Seattle will be fired up for their first home playoff game in over twenty years, so there is no question the noise Altuve will have to deal with will be noticeable. If he can start the game with a hit or, even more preferably, a solo homer, it could quiet the crowd and take away some of Seattle's home-field advantage.

Pair that with solid pitching by McCullers Jr. and the Astros' bullpen to stifle the Mariners' offense, and it could be a recipe that sends Houston to the ALCS again.

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