Viewed through heavy rain, neither Houston nor Kansas City seemed much different from last year.
While beating the Chiefs 16-10 Saturday night in the teams' first preseason game, Houston's starters looked sharp and quick, like the team that won five of its last six games in 2008. The Chiefs, for much of the night, sloshed around like the bunch who finished a franchise-worst 2-14 last season and created a job opening for new head coach Todd Haley.
Chris Brown scored Houston's only touchdown of the soggy night on a 2-yard run in the first quarter, capping a 94-yard drive behind Matt Schaub. Kris Brown added three field goals for the Texans. Schaub was 7 of 7 for 70 yards and looked impressive in a 94-yard touchdown drive that was aided by a penalty against Kansas City.
Matt Cassel, acquired in a winter trade with New England and locked up with a six-year, $63 million contract, played only three series and had spotty success in his first appearance before Chiefs fans. He tried five passes and completed two for 15 yards and was not nearly as productive as backup Brodie Croyle.
The Texans led 13-0 at halftime and 13-3 deep into the fourth quarter until Tyler Thigpen, the third Chiefs quarterback, hit Brad Cottam with a 1-yard TD pass.
Croyle, who lost the starting job last year when he kept getting hurt, was 12 of 18 for 145 yards. Also with some impressive throws was Schaub's backup, Dan Orlovsky, who was 9 of 20 for 121 yards.
Having a good night on defense for the Texans was 338-pound tackle Frank Okam, who batted down two passes.
Four Houston starters sat out with injuries: linebacker Brian Cushing, the team's top draft pick; tackle Travis Johnson; and cornerbacks Dunta Robinson and Jacques Reeves.
Nobody in a Chiefs uniform had a better game than Dwayne Bowe, and perhaps nobody needed one more. Bowe, who has spent much of training camp in Haley's doghouse, did not come into the game until Croyle replaced Cassel with about 5 1/2 minutes left in the half, and immediately caught a 14-yard pass. He wound up with a team-high five catches for 70 yards.
The fact the Chiefs are without 10-time Pro Bowl tight end Tony Gonzalez for the first time since 1997 was painfully driven home in the second quarter. Cassel, under pressure, scrambled away on third down and connected with Sean Ryan, one of several candidates for Gonzalez's old job. But Ryan bobbled the ball as he was going out of bounds and blew the sort of play Gonzalez made routinely before he was traded this year to Atlanta.
Chiefs fans shivering in the cold rain had only one thing to cheer in the first half, when rookie kicker Ryan Succop nailed a 48-yard field goal. Croyle hit Bowe for 14 yards and Rodney Wright for 12 to set up the last man taken in this year's NFL draft.
Croyle had the Chiefs on the move again when Dantrell Savage fumbled after a long gain. Jesse Nading recovered for Houston on the Kansas City 37. Orlovsky immediately hit Darnell Jenkins for 19 yards, then two plays later connected with Jacoby Jones for 10 in a drive capped by Kris Brown's 30-yarder. Brown also connected from 23 and 42 yards.