Texans hail C.J. Stroud for bringing team back to playoffs

ByDJ BIEN-AIME
January 7, 2024, 2:39 AM

INDIANAPOLIS -- After wrapping up his postgame interviews,  Houston Texans quarterback C.J. Stroud embraced his family to celebrate Saturday night's 23-19 win over the Indianapolis Colts.

It was a moment that culminated Stroud's promise in July when he declared at a local Houston camp that the Texans would "shock the world." Stroud cashed in on that statement as the Texans clinched a spot in the playoffs, something many didn't expect when the season started.

Stroud said it was "tremendously special" to fulfill his promise.

"Just the time that we put in together, to see the fruits of that labor to come to be, it's a blessing," Stroud said. "Man, I'm just blessed to be a part of this."

In the Texans' first prime-time game this season, Stroud went 20-of-26 for 264 yards with two touchdowns and a passer rating of 138. Saturday night capped a stellar rookie season in which he finished with 4,108 passing yards, 23 touchdowns, five interceptions and a passer rating of 100.8. Stroud became the fifth rookie in NFL history to reach the 4,000-yard passing milestone as he led the Texans to the playoffs for the first time since 2019 in coach DeMeco Ryans' first season.

"C.J. doesn't surprise me," Ryans said. "We talked about it earlier in the week with C.J. being special in these big-time moments when you need it most, to step up and make plays. He's done it time after time throughout the entire year. It's not surprising. That's who he is. He's one of the best passers in this league. And he shows it consistently, game in and game out."

Against the Colts, the connection of Stroud and receiver Nico Collins carried the Texans' offense, which was without its Nos. 2-4 leading receivers in Tank Dell, Noah Brown and Robert Woods.

Collins finished a touchdown and 195 of the Texans' 306 total yards. Ryans said the Stroud-Collins duo "stole the show" and was "the reason why we won this game."

The duo connected early on the Texans' first offensive play for a 75-yard touchdown and hooked up late as Collins had 37 yards on the winning drive. Stroud engineered a 12-play, 73-yard touchdown drive, going 7-of-7 for 82 yards before running back Devin Singletary scored the go-ahead touchdown with 6:23 remaining.

Moments after the game, the smell of cigar smoke permeated the locker room as the Texans celebrated. Tight end Brevin Jordan put his cigar down and emphatically hailed Stroud for bringing the team to the postseason.

"He's everything," Jordan told ESPN. "When you got a guy under center that takes command of the whole team, he has an aura about him that's special. There's a reason why we're going to the playoffs, and a lot of it is because of [Stroud]."

Texans defensive end Will Anderson echoed a similar sentiment to Jordan.

"Without [Stroud], we don't accomplish half of the things that we have," Anderson told ESPN. "Man, [No.] 7 has been phenomenal for us. Everybody in this building appreciates having him and is blessed to have him here. We just got to give all credit to 7. His personality affects everybody in this locker room. His attitude and energy bleed through the whole locker room. It makes everybody want to step up and keep playing better."

As much as Stroud earned the appreciation from his teammates and coaches, he praised Ryans for the job he has done in his first season taking over a franchise that went 11-38-1 from 2020 to 2022 when they fired three coaches in a row: Bill O'Brien, David Culley and Lovie Smith.

"DeMeco is the perfect guy for the job. He brings something out of his players, and it's indescribable," Stroud said. "Just like the strain, the mental stability and that toughness that he talks about. I can do nothing but just be appreciative and thankful for where I was picked to be in this situation right now. It's just been a blessing."

The Texans' opponent in the wild-card round has yet to be determined. They will face the Kansas City Chiefs on the road if the Miami Dolphins beat the Buffalo Bills and the  Jacksonville Jaguars beat the Tennessee Titans.

If the Bills win, paired with a Jaguars win, the Texans will travel to Buffalo to face the Bills. If the Jaguars lose to the Titans, the Texans will win the AFC South division and host the Cleveland Browns.

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