HOUSTON – The Houston Texans took their Week 16 loss to the Cleveland Browns personally and defeated them in the wild-card game 45-14, led by a historic day for quarterback C.J. Stroud on Saturday.
Texans coach DeMeco Ryans called Stroud “special,” as the No. 2 pick in last year's draft tied an NFL record for most touchdown passes (three) by a rookie in a playoff game.
“CJ is the reason we’re in this situation,” Ryans said after the game. “He is a special young man, a special player and he continues to shine. No matter how big the moment is, our whole team is counting on him, and he has the shoulders to carry the load. And he shows week after week… “There is no moment too big for him. He has had a special season and we are looking forward to continuing to move forward.”
Ryans and Stroud became the third rookie quarterback coaching duo since 1950 to win a playoff game. Stroud was the first quarterback drafted in the top two of the draft since 1967 to start and win a playoff game in his rookie season. He also became the youngest ever to win a playoff game, surpassing Michael Vick.
“Very excited for this team and the city of Houston,” Stroud said. “I'm lucky to be in the position that I'm in… I've put in a lot of hard work, my teammates are doing it too, and it's great to see the fruits of your labor coming to fruition. I'm very happy to be recognized by a great name like Michael Vick, who was My favorite quarterback growing up. I'm very lucky, and I hope I can get to two [wins]”.
This game was a rematch from Week 16, a game the Texans lost 36-22, and one the players didn't forget when a song blared in the locker room before the game.
“The song we were playing when we walked in was 'Get Back a Motherf—er,'” Texans' Brevin Jordan told ESPN. “We didn't have C.J. Stroud [in Week 16]And when we went back and watched the film, there was always one or two guys who weren't on the right targets or missions. “It's just one of those games that we got right, and we took that game personally.”
The Texans trailed 14-10 in the second quarter, and from that point on, went on a 35-0 run to keep the game open.
It started when Stroud ran a play and threw a 4-yard pass to Jordan, who ran 72 yards after making the catch into the end zone to put the Texans up 17-14.
Then, before halftime on second-and-2 with 1:11 remaining, Stroud found tight end Dalton Schultz wide open for another touchdown to take a 24-14 lead into halftime.
Ryans told his team at half-time that it was about finishing and “games that turn at half-time”.
“The thing that was said in the locker room is, 'We're here,'” Ryans said. “We talked about our moment, we talked about opportunities. Now, the biggest thing is, what do you do with it? It was all about just going out and finishing, continuing to execute, continuing to finish. And that's what we did.”
In the third quarter, the Texans closed the door on any potential comeback when cornerback Steven Nelson and linebacker Chris Harris intercepted Browns quarterback Joe Flacco, returning both picks for touchdowns to take a 38-14 lead.
There were other key contributors to the Texans' revenge win. In Week 16, wide receiver Amari Cooper went for 265 yards and two touchdowns, helping the Browns take control that game. Ryans decided to have former No. 3 linebacker Derek Stingley follow Cooper on Saturday.
“Stingley did an unbelievable job with Cooper and limited him four times, so it was a great job,” Ryans said. “Sting was up to the challenge before the game. That's what playoff football is about. It's about playmakers stepping up and making a play.”
According to Next Gen Stats, Stingley matched up with Cooper on 71% of the routes and held him to zero, with Cooper finishing with 59 yards on four catches.
“I was in a groove,” Stingley told ESPN. “I was caught up in my style and my eyes. I was making sure I wouldn't be the right person.”
The Texans will wait to see who they face in the divisional round. But in Jordan's eyes, as long as they have Stroud performing at a historic level, they are confident in any match.
“If all 11 of us are on the same page offensively, getting in there, doing our job, we feel like no one can play for us,” Jordan said. “Especially when you have No. 7 there.”
“Alcohol enthusiast. Twitter ninja. Tv lover. Falls down a lot. Hipster-friendly coffee geek.”