By Elwyn Henderson
The 5-4 Houston Texans hosted the 2-8 Arizona Cardinals Sunday at NRG Stadium in Houston and when the final second ticked off the clock Houston walked off after overcoming a lot of adversity with a 21-16 victory. The win sets up a BIG AFC South showdown next Sunday when Houston concludes their 3-game home stand taking on the Jacksonville Jaguars in a game for the lead in the AFC South with almost 2/3 of the 2023 season in the books following the matchup.
The Texans went into the game missing some key pieces of the team. Defensively they were without safety Jimmie Ward and linebacker Henry To’Oto’O and offensively they were missing running back Dameon Pierce and wide receiver Noah Brown.
Houston won the coin toss prior to the beginning of the game and elected to defer to begin the game. It didn’t take long for that decision to come in question, as after a touchback, Kyler Murray who returned at quarterback for Arizona after missing several weeks with an injury drove the Cardinals the 75 yards into the end zone for the first score of the day in just 3 plays and 1:32. The score came on a 47-yard TD pass from Murray to Rondale Moore with 13:28 left in the opening quarter. Matt Prater booted the PAT and Arizona led 7-0.
Houston began their first drive at their 25 after a touchback of Prater’s kickoff following the score. CJ Stroud moved the team down to the Cardinal 15 where they faced a 4th and 2. On a crazy play call with an end around Houston was stopped for no gain and the ball turned over on downs to Arizona at that point.
The Texans defense came to life, giving up just 6 yards in 3 plays, resulting in Blake Gillikin coming in to punt the ball away. After the punt and an 8-yard return, Houston set up for their second possession at their 39 and Stroud and the offense went to work again.
This time the drive didn’t end until Houston was in the end zone for their first TD of the day. The score came when Stroud hit Dalton Schultz on a 20-yard TD pass with 5:48 left in the first quarter. Matt Ammendola added the extra point and the game was tied 7-7. The drive was 5 plays, 61 yards and took 1:57 off the first quarter clock.
After beginning their next drive at their 25 after a touchback, Murray led his team down to the Houston 25, but after a holding call and a sack of Murray, Prater came in and nailed a 57-yard field goal with 1:21 left in the opening frame, giving Arizona a 10-7 lead. The drive was 9 plays, 36 yards and took 4:27.
The Texans began their next drive at their 25 after another touchback of Prater’s kick after the field goal.
The possession started out well and Houston moved down to the Cardinal 35 before Stroud was sacked for a 10-yard loss. The offense didn’t let that slow them down, as on the next play there was a 21-yard run. That sparked Houston’s second trip to the end zone. The score came on a 12-yard TD run by Devin Singletary with 11:20 left in the first half. Ammendola added the extra point and the Texans recaptured the lead, 14-10. The drive was a 10-play, 75-yard affair that consumed Arizona 5:01.
Arizona began their next drive at their 25 after a touchback and Derek Stingley, Jr intercepted a Murray pass at the Houston 25 on the first play of the possession and Stroud and company returned to the field to try to expand their lead.
Stroud led his unit down to the Arizona 12, but Jalen Thompson intercepted a pass in the end zone intended for Nico Collins and Murray brought the Cardinal offense back to the field.
No damage was done from the pick as the defense held and forced a punt. Following a short 8-yard return the Texans were back on offense again.
Stroud ran the 2-minute offense perfectly, moving the offense 74 yards into the end zone in 6 plays and 1:49. The score came on a 40-yard TD pass from Stroud to Tank Dell with just 26 seconds left in the first half. Ammendola’s extra point kick was good and Houston led 21-10.
The Cardinals final drive of the half began at their 25 after a touchback and Murray went to work hoping for a miracle before the half ended. It wasn’t in the Cards, as a Hail Mary pass into the end zone was broken up by Blake Cashman and the teams headed to their respective locker rooms with the Texans leading 21-10.
Houston received the second half kickoff and after a touchback Stroud and his offensive partners set up on their 25 for their first drive of the second half.
Stroud led the team down the field but Arizona’s defense stiffened and forced a 48-yard Ammendola field goal try. The kick was wide left, leading the score 21-10 with 9:15 left in the third quarter.
Murray brought his charges out at the 38 following the missed kick and they marched right down the field and headed toward the end zone. Facing a 4th and goal from the 1, Murray called a time out to discuss what play they wanted to run. After a fake handoff, Murray ran around right end for the TD with 2:52 left in the third quarter, making the score 21-16. Murray’s try for 2 on a run was stopped short of the goal line, leaving the Texans with a 5-point lead. The drive 12 plays, 62 yards and took 6:23 off the clock.
Houston began their next possession at their 25 after another touchback. Stroud slipped dropping back on the first play for a 10-yard loss and the offense couldn’t recover, forcing a Cameron Johnston punt. The ball was taken at the Cardinal 41 but thanks to an illegal block in the back the ball was put in play at the 32.
Murray drove his offense down to the Texans 23 and on a 4th and 2 the Houston defense held a run to a 1-yard gain and Houston took possession after a turnover on downs at their 22. Arizona forced a Johnston punt that hit a Cardinal player on the upper arm. Houston recovered at the Arizona 25 and went back to work on offense at that point. It was a short possession, as a pass bounced off the intended receiver and was intercepted by Josh Woods and returned out to the Cardinal 49 with 9:30 left in the game.
The Houston defense forced another turnover on downs at their 45 and Stroud came back out with the offense. After picking up one first down, Stroud threw an interception to Antonio Hamilton, Sr at the Arizona 19 and the Cardinals were in position to take the lead once again.
The Houston defense continued to have trouble keeping the Cardinals in check and Kyler Murray drove his unit down the field, reaching the Houston 29 at the 2-minute warning. The Texans came up with a defensive breakup of a Murray desperation pass as Steven Nelson knocked the ball away. Stroud took a knee at is 27 and the clock expired, giving the Texans a 21-16 win and setting up a game that will decided first place in the AFC South next Sunday when Houston entertains Jacksonville.
After the team’s third win in a row, The Mirror asked Head Coach DeMeco Ryans if in his wildest dreams he EVER thought the Texans could turn things around so quickly.
“For me, taking this job, I understand it is not about me. I have full faith in God that he’s gonna guide, lead and direct my steps through everything that I do and everything that I’ve approached and everything that’s happened in my life, I know it’s not because of me. I’ve had a lot of favor and a lot of grace over my life and I’m just grateful always for God being able to surround me with good people. It’s not about me; it’s about Him.”
When we asked quarterback CJ Stroud the same question, he replied, “Yes, sir. We have expectations that we hold ourselves to and a standard we hold ourselves to and we started that back in OTAs. It’s not about what everybody else thinks or what they thought we were going to be at this point, it’s about what we go put on that field. It’s been really cool to play with my teammates and build week in and week out, and now we’ve put ourselves in a great position to go play for the division, man. It’s really special. This week is going to mean a lot. We’ve gotta go practice really hard and put another great week in of practice and around Thanksgiving we want to be playing our best and we’re doing that. Of course, you’ve got to eliminate the negative plays, but other than that we’re moving the ball really well. Defense is getting stops. This is the NFL, you know, so every game is a fight and a battle to the very end and we’re going to just keep going.”