Ryans and Stroud lead remarkable turnaround to put Texans back in the playoffs

Houston Texans quarterback C.J. Stroud (7) before an NFL football game against the New York Jets on Sunday, Dec. 10, 2023, in East Rutherford, N.J. (AP Photo/Bryan Woolston) (Bryan Woolston, Copyright 2023 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.)

HOUSTON – The Houston Texans are back in the playoffs for the first time since 2019 behind impressive first years by coach DeMeco Ryans and quarterback C.J. Stroud.

Ryans and Stroud are the fifth first-year head coach and rookie quarterback combination to make the playoffs in NFL history and the first since Andrew Luck and Chuck Pagano did it with the Colts in 2012.

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The Texans, who won just three games last season, beat the Colts 23-19 Saturday night to earn their playoff berth and Jacksonville’s loss to Tennessee Sunday made them AFC South champions.

“I’m happy, excited about this moment, excited about this opportunity that we have in front of us,” Ryans said. “It’s a proud moment for our organization, so I’m just happy to be a part of it and happy to be along for the ride.”

Next up is a rematch with Cleveland on Saturday in the wild-card round of the playoffs. The Browns beat Houston 36-22 on Dec. 24 in a game that Stroud missed while recovering from a concussion.

Ryans, a former linebacker for the Texans, completely transformed the team in his debut season as a head coach after spending the previous two years as San Francisco’s defensive coordinator.

He is Houston’s third different coach in as many seasons after David Culley and Lovie Smith were both fired after just one awful season.

Ryans was asked about exceeding expectations, but he doesn’t view Houston’s season that way.

“Every team that starts the season, your expectations have to be to get into the playoffs and have an opportunity to win it all,” he said. “That’s why you play the game. I don’t know any other expectation. When you’re a competitor, this is why you compete. If we continue to do our best and work the right way, we’ll have an opportunity. That’s what our guys did, and we’re here with our opportunity right now.”

Stroud, the second overall pick in the draft, had one of the best seasons by a rookie quarterback in NFL history. His 4,108 yards passing are the third most by a rookie in NFL history, trailing only Luck (4,374) and Justin Herbert (4,336).

He threw 23 touchdown passes with just five interceptions. Stroud ended the regular season with 144 consecutive passes without an interception and leads the NFL in touchdown to interception ratio.

“I’m blessed enough to be in this position for this great organization, this great city of Houston,” Stroud said. “Words can’t explain how proud I am of my teammates. Without them, there’s no me or no winning, you know what I’m saying? It’s just a blessing just to be able to be part of something special.”


Houston’s passing game continues to be the strength of the team thanks to Stroud’s stellar play despite the team missing multiple receivers because of injuries. He threw for 264 yards and two touchdowns against the Colts in his second game back after missing two games after suffering a concussion.


The Texans gave up a season-high 227 yards rushing to Indianapolis on Saturday. Ryans knows his team will have to be better in that area if it hopes to advance in the playoffs.

“We just have to be better of swarming the football, but it starts with tackling,” he said. “It wasn’t good enough and we have to improve it this week.”


WR Nico Collins. The third-year player had a career-high 195 yards receiving, highlighted by a 75-yard TD catch in the win over Indianapolis. Collins has 1,297 yards receiving this season, which is more than he had in his first two seasons combined. He joins Andre Johnson and DeAndre Hopkins as the only players in franchise history to reach 1,200 yards receiving.


As noted above, Houston’s run defense was awful Saturday. It would be unfair to single out one person as the problem with players across the defense contributing to the poor performance.


DE Jonathan Greenard (ankle), who leads the team with 12½ sacks, missed a second straight game against the Colts. … WRs Robert Woods (hip) and Noah Brown (back) also missed the regular-season finale.


46 — The Texans had 46 sacks this season which were the most in franchise history, surpassing the 45 they had in the 2015 season.


Houston must find a way to contain Amari Cooper when the Browns visit Saturday after he had a franchise-record 265 yards receiving with two touchdowns in their most recent meeting.


AP NFL: https://apnews.com/hub/nfl

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