By Elwyn Henderson
The 2-3 Houston Texans, coming off a very competitive but disappointing road lost in Atlanta a week earlier, returned to NRG Stadium in Houston Sunday for a noon game against the 3-2 New Orleans Saints.
Quarterback C. J. Stroud, rookie 2nd pick in the 2023 NFL Draft out of Ohio State, has performed like a seasoned veteran signal caller to begin the season and has grown stronger every game. Texans fans were hoping to see that trend continue. Houston fans have been dying to see their team be a legitimate playoff contender and so far they still have hope that 2023 might be the year they return to the playoffs.
This season was considered to be a rebuilding year, but with the play of the team in weeks 2-5, Stroud and the Texans are making NFL fans all across the country take notice of their impressive beginning.
The coin toss, led by Houston Captains Janice and Hannah McNair who are both breast cancer survivors, took place at midfield prior to the opening kickoff. New Orleans won the toss and elected t to defer to the second half to begin the game.
Blake Grupe kicked off and the ball was taken at the goal line by Devin Singletary who returned the ball up near the 20 but Houston was called for a hold and the drive began at the Houston 9.
Stroud led the offense out for the first possession of the day. The offense moved up to their 48 before the Saints shut the door, forcing a Cameron Johnston punt. The kick went into the end zone for a touchback and Derek Carr and the Saints went on offense for the first time at their 20.
Carr led his unit down to the Houston 34 and that was as far as they could march. Grupe attempted a 52-yard field goal with 6:40 left in the opening quarter. The kick was wide right and Stroud and company returned to the field and began their second possession of the day at their 42.
Stroud made a mistake and was intercepted for the first time on the season at the Saints 45 by Zack Baun, but on the return he fumbled the ball and Titus Howard recovered the loose pigskin at the Houston 41 and the Texans kept the ball, so the pick caused no real damage to Houston.
Stroud came back with a fury and drove the team down the field after his first pick of the season. The drive concluded when Stroud hit tight end Dalton Schultz on a 1-yard TD pass with 3:41 left in the first quarter. Ka’Imi Fairbairn added the PAT and Houston led 7-0. The drive was 6 plays, 59 yards and took 2:15.
After Fairbairn’s kick after the core went into the end zone the visitors began their next drive at their 25.
Carr drove the Saints the 75 yards into the end zone for a touchdown. The score came on a 34-yard pass from Carr to Rashid Shaheed with 13 seconds left in the first quarter. Grupe added the extra point and the game was tied 7-7.
After a touchback Houston set up shop on their 25 for their next possession. Stroud moved the team down to the New Orleans 5 and on 4th and 3 Fairbairn came in and booted a 24-yard field goal with 10:28 left I the first half, putting the Texans back in the lead, 10-7. The drive was a 7-play, 70-yard affair that took 4:45 off the clock.
On their next possession, which began at their 19, Houston forced a three-and-out and after a Lou Hedley punt the Texans went back on offense at their 35.
Stroud moved the team down the field the 65 yards into the end zone for their second TD of the game. The score came on a 6-yard pass to Robert Woods with 2:56 left in the first half. Fairbairn nailed the extra point and the Texans extended their lead to 17-7. The drive was 10 plays and took 4:45 off the second quarter clock.
Following a touchback on the next kickoff Carr brought his charges out at their 25 to start their next drive. Carr moved the team down to the 29 where the Houston defense forced a 48-yard field goal attempt by Grupe. The kick was good with 18 seconds left in the half and the visitors were back within 7, trailing 17-10. The drive was 13 plays, 46 yards and consumed 2:38 of time off the clock.
Grupe’s next kick went out of the end zone and Houston took over at their 18. After one play the half ended with the Texans up 17-7.
The two teams exchanged punts to begin the second half and then the Texans began a drive that went down to the Saints 4 before the New Orleans defense stiffened and forced a 22-yard Fairbairn field goal with 7:01 left in the third quarter. The kick was good and Houston went back up by 10 and led 20-10. The drive was 6 plays, 46 yards and took 2:09 off the clock.
The Saints began their next drive at their 25 following a touchback of Fairbairn’s kickoff. Carr and his offensive teammates marched methodically down the field, ending the drive when Grupe came in and kicked a 45-yard field goal with 2:17 left in the third quarter. The drive was 10 plays, 48 yards and took 4:44, and it pulled New Orleans back to within 7 at 20-13.
Houston’s next drive began at their 25 after a touchback of Grupe’s kickoff. The drive resulted in a punt and the Saints went back on the offensive with an opportunity to tie the game. Fortunately, the Houston defense bent but didn’t break and Grupe was forced to try a 29-yard field goal with 11:07 left in the game. The kick sailed wide left and Houston maintained their 20-13 lead and they took back over on offense at their 20.
After moving up to their 47, Johnston had to punt the ball away. After the 40-yard kick the Saints offense came back on the field at their 13.
The Houston defense rose to the challenge on a 4th and 3 at their 15, stopping Alvin Kamara 1 yard short at the Texans 13 and Stroud brought his unit back on the field at that point.
The Texans were able to get a drive going, thanks in part to a pass interference committed by the Saints. Unfortunately, they had to punt the ball back to New Orleans from their 48 on 4th and 10. Johnston’s punt was fair caught at the Saints 15 and Carr and his cohorts got one more chance to tie the game, taking over with 2:57 left in the contest.
Carr moved his unit down to the Houston 24, but a 4th down pass to the Houston 2 was intercepted and the Texans got the ball once more with 18 seconds left in the game. Stroud ran two plays and the game ended with the Texans claiming a 20-13 win to move to 3-3 on the season. They are tied with the Indianapolis Colts and one game behind the Jacksonville Jaguars who sit at 4-2 in the AFC South.
Coach DeMeco Ryans was very happy when he faced the media after the big win.
“I’m really proud of the defense and how we stepped up and made a play. When the game was on the line, when we needed it most, guys stepped up. It’s tough to win in this league, but it was awesome to see the way our guys grinded it out, the way they stepped up right there at the end with [Steven] Nelson making a big-time interception there. I couldn’t be more proud of the defense from the growth from last week to this week. That’s what I continue to see in our team is just growth – being resilient. These moments we were in the same situation last week, but to see the growth and see us finish it out, it was awesome.”
When C. J. Stroud met with the media following the win he was asked his thoughts on the hard-fought win.
“First, I want to give all the glory and praise to my Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. It was a hard-fought win. Needed that one. Our biggest thing was empty the tank and leave the game 3-3 going into the bye week. That’s huge for us. Got to have a good Bye Week and get better there. Rest up, because it’s going to be a big-time second half of the season that we need to execute better and be better at. So, happy with the win and proud of my guys for being resilient and fighting.”
The Texans will now enjoy their bye week next Sunday before heading to Charlotte to take on the Carolina Panthers on October 29th.