HOUSTON (AP) — C.J. Stroud and the Houston Texans couldn’t reach the AFC championship game for the first time in franchise history.
However, the team’s turnaround under the rookie quarterback and first-year coach DeMeco Ryans was impressive and gives the Texans optimism that they’ll be contenders for years to come.
Rookie defensive end Will Anderson, the third overall pick in the draft, was crying after Houston’s 34-10 loss to Baltimore on Saturday when Stroud, the No. 2 draft pick, approached him.
“We’re good, we’re going to be good next year,” Anderson said Stroud told him.
So, Anderson wiped away his tears and thought about what Stroud said.
“I looked at it from his perspective after we talked,” Anderson said. “Just thinking about how much better we’re going to be next year. We’re heading in the right direction.”
Stroud said he hated to see Anderson upset and wanted to remind him that more good times are ahead.
“I just wanted to let him know I appreciated everything that he did for us that year,” Stroud said. "I just want to see his head up high. I just want to see him encouraged and positive.”
Stroud transformed the offense behind his stellar play after Davis Mills had struggled as the starter for most of the last two seasons. Houston went 10-7 in the regular season to win the AFC South, a year after finishing with the league’s second-worst record at 3-13-1.
“In this league, everybody’s looking for that quarterback,” Ryans said. “We know how important the position is, and the resources that go into finding the right guy to lead. And over half the league has them, half don’t. So, it’s a special position, it takes a special person to play that position and we’re happy to have C.J. leading us.”
Including the postseason, Stroud threw for 4,557 yards, which was the second-most by a rookie in NFL history behind Andrew Luck, who had 4,662 in 2012. He finished with 26 touchdown passes and just five interceptions and was not picked off in the playoffs.
The former Ohio State standout concluded the season with 198 pass attempts without an interception after opening with 191 in a row without a pick, which was an NFL record to start a career.
“C.J., throughout the entire year, what I love most about it is the growth,” Ryans said. “It’s encouraging when you have a young guy who’s able to grow, not only in the entire season, but to see him grow and take the coaching points and grow from week to week and see a guy improve so quickly. It’s encouraging to see how much better he can get as he continues to play throughout the league.”
Stroud is pleased with what he accomplished but is looking to do “way more” in the future.
“My plan is I want to be the best,” Stroud said. “I don’t want to just be the best rookie, the best second-year dude. I want to be the best point-blank period.”
Though Stroud was the undisputed star of the team, Anderson also had a strong season, setting a franchise rookie record with seven sacks. He had 45 tackles, including 10 for losses, and 22 quarterback hits while missing two games with an ankle injury.
Rookie third-round pick Tank Dell silenced anyone who doubted that he could perform in the NFL at his size. He was a standout for Houston before a broken leg ended his season.
The 5-foot-8, 165-pound Dell had 47 receptions for 709 yards and seven touchdowns in 11 games. He had three 100-yard games, including 149 yards in a 21-16 win over Arizona.
“I just felt like that was a test run for me,” Dell said. “I had a lot more to display but God puts you through things for a reason. I just keep my head up because I know the years to come are going to be special here.”
Two of Houston’s assistants are candidates for jobs around the league. Offensive coordinator Bobby Slowik has interviewed for several head coaching positions and quarterbacks coach Jerrod Johnson is a candidate for multiple offensive coordinator gigs.
“It’s kind of the nature of when you have success,” Ryans said. “Other people want to see what’s going on and they probably want to take some guys to help them out. So, it’s a tough part of it, but ... that’s what happens, and we’ll have to have contingency plans available.”
Nico Collins had a career-high 1,297 yards receiving after combining for just 927 yards in his first two seasons. Collins, a third-round pick from Michigan in 2021, continued his success in the playoffs with 164 yards and a score.
Collins had three games with more than 160 yards receiving, including a career-best 195 yards in Houston’s 23-19 win over Indianapolis that clinched a playoff berth. He joined Andre Johnson and DeAndre Hopkins as the only players in franchise history to have a 1,200-yard receiving season.
The Texans will continue to add pieces around Stroud and Anderson to try to get this team to the next level. A top priority will be improving their running game after they were outrushed 229 yards to 38 in the loss to Baltimore.
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