After handing out game balls Sunday night, Andy Reid ceded the floor to Justin Houston.
The hulking eight-year veteran linebacker stepped into a small clearing amid the mass of his huddled teammates following the Chiefs’ regular-season-ending win over the Raiders.
“Every time, all the time you got, dog, please put it in this dog,” he growled, his low, velvety voice dripping with intensity.
“We’ve only got three weeks to give it all we got. That’s all brother. You’ve got the rest of the offseason to do whatever you want, brother. You’ve got three weeks to give it all you’ve got. All your time dedicated to this. Let’s go get this thing, dog. Let’s go get this.”
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The team put their hands together and broke the huddle after a quick count.
But days after Houston’s impromptu speech, the Chiefs are still buzzing with the energy he infused in the locker room that night. It’s an energy they know they have to carry through the bye week and into the playoffs to break the franchise’s postseason curse.
“He’s just been that voice that you sort of need to hear at times,” fellow linebacker Dee Ford said. “That’s just the makeup of our team. He’s done a phenomenal job of leading us.”
Though he’s missed time this season because of injury, Houston has remained one of the defensive leaders of the team along with safety Eric Berry. Houston’s message to his teammates was simple: shelve your personal needs for a few more weeks to help the team achieve its major goal.
After the first-round bye, the Chiefs will have a maximum of three games in four weeks.
“This is a month right now of your life that you don’t get back, this opportunity,” Ford said. “You don’t want to waste it. We’re locking in. Take your game … whatever you do, magnify it even more. You’ve got three weeks. You can do anything for three weeks. We don’t want to take, we want to take advantage, but we don’t want to take for granted where we are right now.”
Where the Chiefs are right now is the No. 1 seed in the AFC with homefield advantage through the playoffs — at least, of course, until a potential trip to Atlanta for the Super Bowl. They’ll know their opponent after this weekend’s games, but it will be the Colts, Ravens or Chargers. Kansas City’s failings in the playoffs have been well-documented, but in Houston’s words, “don’t let the past poison your future.”
“We are focused on the future now and we are getting ready for whoever we have to play,” he said after Sunday’s win. “We are going to take advantage of this opportunity.”
In just his second year with the Chiefs, quarterback Patrick Mahomes feels the urgency around the club and understands the necessity for the tone set by Houston in his postgame speech.
“You feel that in the locker room,” Mahomes said. “You feel that from the leaders on this team is that we know it’s going to take full effort the whole entire way. You can’t be satisfied with just being here.
“We want to capitalize on the opportunity to be here and capitalize on the No. 1 seed. We’re excited for the opportunity. We really are. Everybody’s pumped up and we’re ready to go.”