HOUSTON -- The Kansas City Chiefs went through long stretches last season where they went begging for plays like the one it took them less than 11 minutes to get in their first try in 2015. Tight end Travis Kelce worked his way into the clear down the field, caught a pass from Alex Smith and ran to the end zone untouched to complete the 42-yard touchdown.
Kelce punched the ball in celebration once he reached the end zone, and why not? The Chiefs had only two pass plays longer than 42 yards last year and it took them into December to get them.
A lack of explosive plays kept the Chiefs from making the playoffs last year but served early notice in their 27-20 win over the Houston Texans that if they fail to reach the postseason again, it won’t be for the same reason. Smith threw two other touchdown passes in the first half as the Chiefs built a comfortable 27-9 lead.
Smith threw for 193 yards in the first two quarters, the most he has had in a half since he joined the Chiefs in 2013. He finished 22-of-33 for 243 yards and three touchdowns. He had a QB rating of 118.6.
“It was nice to get off to a start like that," Smith said. “You never expect it. To come out firing like that was really nice. You can’t anticipate that. We got the opportunities and took advantage."
That’s the point. The Chiefs had their opportunities last year but were incapable of taking advantage.
Last year at this time, Dwayne Bowe, not Jeremy Maclin, was their No. 1 wide receiver. Maclin didn’t have a big impact in his debut but still had five catches. Last year at this time, Jamaal Charles was hobbling with various injuries. On Sunday, he had five catches and one of the touchdowns.
Most of all, Kelce was a part-time player at this time last year. He was a backup to the since-departed Anthony Fasano but now he’s a full-timer, not counting the few plays he missed in the first half because he had the wind knocked out of him.
That’s a lot of difference from a year ago.
“We’re more balanced," Smith said. “I think we’re really well-rounded. We have a lot of different ways to get you. We’ve got a lot of weapons, a lot of guys that can do multiple things. I think that presents a lot of problems for defenses. I think you saw that early on, how they were going to play us, the matchups."
If this is who Smith and the Chiefs are in the passing game this year, they’ll be difficult to beat. Many of the other parts of their game held up well Sunday, no surprise since the Chiefs were solid in most other phases last season.
Things won’t always go so well for the Chiefs and their passing game, but if they could make it work against the J.J. Watt and the Texans, it was probably no fluke.