Field goals won’t be enough for Chiefs to defeat Texans
By Jake Kokoris
The Kansas City Chiefs must learn from the Buffalo Bills’ loss. In order to win Sunday, the Chiefs must view no lead as secure.
Last week, football fans were blessed to see one of the best plays in recent memory in the Houston Texans win over the Buffalo Bills. Quarterback Deshaun Watson managed to break two sure-fire tackles, complete a pass, and eventually deliver a comeback win for the Texans. It was one of those awesome moments that reminded you why football is great. That is, unless you’re a Chiefs fan. Watching Watson deliver in such a clutch spot should have made any Chiefs fan uneasy.
Nonetheless, there are lessons to be learned from the Texans’ victory over Buffalo. The biggest one? Field goals aren’t enough.
The Buffalo Bills led the Texans 16-0 early in the third quarter. This lead consisted of a trick-play touchdown and three consecutive Stephen Hauschka field goals. Each of these three field goals was kicked inside the Houston 25-yard line. One of them came about after having the ball at the 10-yard line. Each of these forced field goals presented mini-wins for the Houston defense and the Texans in general.
The Texans were playing downright awful, and Deshaun Watson was a non-factor for the entire first half. The fact that they were playing so horribly, yet only down 16, was a small victory in an otherwise bleak performance going into halftime. We all know the rest of the story. The Texans eventually heated up, and Watson played hero-ball and delivered a victory.
As a general rule, field goals do not defeat elite quarterbacks. If one of the 3 field-goal drives ended in a touchdown, it’s probable that the Bills win the game. Everything I’ve said so far is intuitive: Given the chance, a team would rather score six points than three. The point I want to make is more subtle: field goals give an offense and a team a false sense of optimism and security. The sense of security is false because playing this style of football actually puts increases the pressure on the offense, rather than relieving it.
After the third Hauschka field goal, the Texans scored a touchdown, along with a successful two-point conversion. The 16-8 lead, built by a trio of field goals, ends up putting more pressure on Josh Allen and the Bills a one-score game against a game-changer like Watson is hardly a safe spot to be in. Cue Josh Allen’s bizarre fumble and brutal decision-making down the stretch, and it becomes clear that 16 points weren’t the type of cushion it seemed to be. Opting for three consecutive field goals made it seem like the Bills were chugging along when in reality their failure to punch in touchdowns enabled Watson’s comeback.
We know that touchdowns are better than field goals. We also know that scoring points is always preferable to not scoring points. In a lot of cases, opting for a field goal is the best decision. The problem is that while a 16-0 lead looks really attractive on paper, what it doesn’t say is that a 28-0 lead was very possible. Being content with a 16-0 lead means that the play-calling will reflect that contentment. An offense that stalls while up 16-0 simply is not afforded the margin of error a team up 28-0 is afforded, obviously.
A common criticism of Andy Reid is that he tends to opt for conservative play-calling once a lead is secured. He’ll dial up some really impressive scoring plays in the early going and opt for a lot more inside runs and screens once the lead is comfortable. I don’t tolerate most criticisms of Reid, but this is one area I think is on point. The worry is that Sunday’s game will present a repeat of Buffalo. The Chiefs take a lead, sit on it, kick a few field goals, and have to weather a massive comeback in the second half. This worry is one familiar to Chiefs, most notably the 2018 Wild Card vs. the Titans and the ever-traumatic 2013 Wild Card loss to the Colts.
Obviously, real football, especially playoff football, isn’t a game of Madden. Reid can’t simply have Mahomes throw 50 bombs to Tyreek Hill at will. Situational play-calling is still important and a necessary part of football. But operating under the mindset that not all leads are created equal and opting for aggressiveness over “safe” play-calling ends up relieving the pressure for the offense in the long run. Contentment with narrow leads requires perfection or something close. A well-cushioned lead affords the team some room for mistakes.
Mounting a lead and sitting on it because it’s “smart” and “safe” is a line of strategy that is neither “smart” nor “safe.” It equates to losses in the postseason. This Sunday, the Chiefs must operate under the mindset that no lead is secure. During the regular season, there are games, like Week 2 vs. the Raiders, where the Chiefs only had to play a strong half of football to secure a win. For the sake of Chiefs kingdom, and our disappointing playoff history, field goals are not enough.