Chiefs face Texans in AFC Wild Card opener
The last time he played in the playoffs, the Jets were one win away from playing in the Super Bowl.
A backup who saw action mainly on special teams at the time, Fallon’s Josh Mauga and his first NFL team had defeated New England and Indianapolis in the playoffs before falling on the road against Pittsburgh. Not only was a Super Bowl trip a possibility but also there was a slim chance that Mauga would have faced another ex-Greenwave star, Harvey Dahl, whose Atlanta Falcons were upset in their first playoff game.
Five years later, Mauga’s back in the playoffs.
New team. New role. New experience.
“The experience itself is truly amazing,” said Mauga, who plays right inside linebacker. “It’s a tough road to get to the playoffs and to be a part of it again is a special thing.”
Riding a 10-game winning streak to close the season, Kansas City (11-5) picked up the first Wild Card berth and will take on Houston (9-7) on Saturday when the Chiefs visit the Lone Star State for a 1:35 p.m. kickoff. The game will be televised on ESPN. The winner will face either New England or Denver next weekend.
Instead of backing up linebackers and gunning down kick returners, Mauga enters Saturday’s game as a starter for a surging Chiefs team that was 1-5 in October. After his breakout year in 2014, Mauga had a slight hiccup a couple months ago but is playing the best football of his career. He’ tacked on his first regular-season sack and interception since coming back.
“Having a full year under my belt last year has definitely had an impact on me this season,” Mauga said. “But what’s really helped me out the most is being able to learn from a guy who’s done it for 11 years now, Derrick Johnson.”
Johnson, a left inside linebacker, is a Pro Bowl veteran with much experience and leadership that has rubbed off on Mauga as well as the rest of the defense. The Chiefs, for example, picked off Peyton Manning four times earlier in the season in Denver before the star quarterback missed several games with an injury.
“The character of this team speaks volumes,” Mauga said. “We know what kind of team we’re capable of being and to get there we just continued to push ourselves on getting better every day. Our leadership on the team is one of kind. Tamba Hali, Eric Berry, Alex Smith and Derrick Johnson are just a few among a list of others that really get our team going and getting us ready to play on Sundays.”
Winning streak aside, the playoffs are a new season where anything can happen.
Kansas City was a Wild Card team two years ago when it last made the postseason. The result? The Chiefs blew a three-touchdown lead in Indianapolis and were done after the first week.
Behind a veteran coach aching for his first Lombardi Trophy, Mauga feels the Chiefs have a good shot at making a deep run this year. It also helps having many players with playoff experience.
“We need to play the way we’ve being playing these last 10 weeks and that’s with high intensity and hard-nosed fundamental football,” Mauga said. “(Houston) has got some explosive players on the offensive side of the ball so it’ll be a challenge for our defense to keep them from making big plays can make a big difference in how guys can rally around one another and focus in on what’s at task.”