Justin Houston no longer has to chase Philip Rivers

Colts

INDIANAPOLIS, INDIANA – NOVEMBER 17: Justin Houston #99 of the Indianapolis Colts celebrates a sack during the second half against the Jacksonville Jaguars at Lucas Oil Stadium on November 17, 2019 in Indianapolis, Indiana. (Photo by Stacy Revere/Getty Images)

INDIANAPOLIS – Introductions weren’t necessary. Philip Rivers already had an up-close-and-personal relationship with Justin Houston.

“He just said, ‘I’m glad you’re on my team now,’’’ Houston said with a wide grin during a Friday Zoom conference call.

Their paths had crossed 13 times over the past nine seasons. Houston became the Indianapolis Colts’ pass-rush catalyst in 2019, a position he held the previous eight seasons with the Kansas City Chiefs. Rivers always was in his crosshairs whenever the Chargers were on the far sideline.

Of Houston’s 89.5 career sacks – 7th-most among active players – 8.5 have come at Rivers’ expense, including one in the ’19 season-opener. That’s tops on Houston’s QB hit list.

Also noteworthy: when Rivers matched a career-high by being sacked 7 times against the Chiefs in late December 2014, Houston got to him four times.

But no more.

The long-time adversaries joined forces in March when the Colts signed Rivers to a one-year, $25 million contract.

“He texted me as soon as he signed,’’ Houston said. “We’ve been texting all offseason, just talking to each other.’’

He insisted Rivers didn’t flinch when they finally met in the Colts’ locker room.

“He’s a great guy, great teammate,’’ Houston said. “We’re going to have a lot of success with him in the backfield. I think this is probably the best offensive line he’s had blocking for him.

“I’m excited and ready to see what he can do for us.’’

During their 13 career meetings, Houston and Rivers never were at a loss for words, although it never got heated despite Rivers’ fiery disposition.

“He talked, but it really wasn’t trash-talking me,’’ Houston said. “We never had that relationship on the field. We can communicate, but it was mostly jokes. We were always joking around.’’

For his part, the Colts need Houston to mount a suitable encore. After signing a two-year, $23 million free-agent deal in the ’19 offseason, he responded by leading them with 11 sacks, 18 quarterback hits and 13 tackles for loss.

It was Houston’s slicing tackle of Damien Williams on fourth-and-1 at the Chiefs’ 34-yard line with 5 minutes remaining that essentially sealed the Colts’ 19-13 upset at Arrowhead Stadium.

It’s worth noting Houston, 31, will be an unrestricted free agent at the end of the season. He clearly isn’t looking at pending retirement.

“I definitely want to continue to play football,’’ he said, “but whether I want to play here or not, I haven’t even thought that far ahead. I just want to focus on one game at a time, one day at a time.

“Whatever happens after that, I’ll leave it up to God. I’ve definitely shown I still have plenty in the tank and I’m ready to show that again.

“There’s still a lot left in me. I’m definitely going to show it this year.’’

You can follow Mike Chappell on Twitter at @mchappell51.

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