Turning a 24-Point Lead Into a 20-Point Loss the Houston Texans Way

Watt, lying on the field, raises his torso and reaches for Mahomes with one arm as Mahomes runs off with the football.
Patrick Mahomes escapes the grasp of J.J. Watt during the AFC divisional playoff game at Arrowhead Stadium in Kansas City, Missouri, on Sunday. Peter Aiken/Getty Images

If things seem to be going a little too well for the protagonist early in a movie, it means you’re either watching porn or horror. On Sunday, the Houston Texans found themselves in a slasher flick. Houston jumped out to a 24–0 lead against the Kansas City Chiefs in the second quarter of their divisional playoff game … and then their afternoon turned very, very gory.

The Chiefs put up 41 unanswered points on their way to a 51–31 win, making Houston the first team in NFL postseason history to lose a game by 20 points after leading by at least 20. What makes blowing that kind of lead so astonishing is that you have to build it first. The Texans got off to the best start imaginable, with Deshaun Watson throwing a 54-yard touchdown pass to Kenny Stills on their first possession. Then, after forcing the Chiefs into a three-and-out, Houston blocked the ensuing punt and returned it for a touchdown.

Minutes later, Tyreek Hill fumbled a punt, Watson threw another TD pass, and Houston was up by 21. It was quite literally the greatest first quarter in franchise history, as no Texans team had ever put up so many points at such a rapid clip. That they had blanked the most fearsome offense in the league was an added bonus, but Houston couldn’t gas up the team jet just yet. According to the pesky rulebook, games last a minimum of 60 minutes. This would prove to be the root of the Texans’ problems.

What follows are step-by-step instructions on how to suffer a catastrophic 44-point swing. Keep in mind, this is no easy feat. The Texans are talented, and Watson put in a downright historic performance.

Screwing up this badly took an elite effort. Don’t try this at home.

Step 1. Houston’s second quarter started about as well as the first quarter did. Watson marched his team to Kansas City’s 21-yard line, where they were stopped with fourth-and-inches to go. Going for it doesn’t always work in the playoffs (see: Ravens, Baltimore), but this situation was tailor-made for aggressiveness. The crowd was stunned, everything had gone their way, and Watson was in a groove. Texans coach Bill O’Brien could have kept his foot on the gas, but he decided to put his emergency lights on and take a quick nap. (That means he called a timeout, pulled his offense, and sent out his kicker to convert the chip shot.)

Score: 24–0. Things are still going great!

Step 2. The Chiefs get a 58-yard kick return and Patrick Mahomes quickly tosses a touchdown pass.

Score: 24–7. Iron sharpens iron. Pressure makes diamonds. America runs on Dunkin’.

Step 3. Faced with a fourth down on the Texans’ own 31-yard line, Bill O’Brien sends out the punt team … but it’s a fake! There’s that aggressiveness!

It doesn’t work.

Score: Still 24–7, but the Chiefs are now forced to go 31 yards for a touchdown. Can it be done?

Step 4. Commit defensive pass interference to put Kansas City even closer to your end zone. Oops, they just got another touchdown.

Score: 24–14, but they had to work for one minute and 50 seconds to get those 14 points.

Step 5. Fumble the ensuing kickoff. Allow the Chiefs to score again.

Score: 24–21. Nail-biter!

Step 6. Allow a 90-yard touchdown drive before halftime.

Score: 28–24. This is the first time in NFL history that a team is losing at halftime after having led by more than 21 points during the first quarter. Good thing momentum resets after 30 minutes of play. That’s a thing, right?

Steps 7 through 10. The Chiefs get three more touchdowns, becoming the first team in postseason history to pile up TDs on seven consecutive drives. The plan is going splendidly.

Score: 48–31. I forgot to mention that you scored a touchdown in there somewhere.

Step 11. Here’s where the defense needs to come up big and keep Kansas City to a field goal.

Score: 51–31. Arrowhead Stadium has literally run out of fireworks. You did it!

Afterwards, O’Brien gave reporters his analysis of the collapse.

If only Houston had scored 50 points! They still would’ve lost, but … they would’ve scored 50 points.