Two teams, with a combined total of seven wins last season, showcased the remarkable progress of their rebuilds by competing for a playoff spot on Saturday night. The Houston Texans secured a 23-19 victory over the Indianapolis Colts, earning a playoff berth. The Texans could become AFC South champs if the Jacksonville Jaguars lose to the Tennessee Titans on Sunday.
This marked an impressive regular season for rookie quarterback C.J. Stroud and first-year coach DeMeco Ryans. It also highlighted the Colts‘ promising trajectory under first-year coach Shane Steichen.
During training camp, the Texans boldly claimed they would “shock the world,” and their playoff qualification in Ryans’ inaugural coaching year validated that prediction.
Stroud displayed composure beyond his experience, particularly in his first prime-time NFL game with high stakes. In the decisive fourth quarter, he orchestrated a 12-play, 73-yard scoring drive, going 7-of-7 for 82 yards. The Texans clinched their playoff spot for the first time since 2019, capping off Stroud and Ryans’ first season together with 10 regular-season wins.
Stroud’s performance solidified his status as the frontrunner for Offensive Rookie of the Year. His 59-yard touchdown pass to Nico Collins on the first drive set the tone, and he finished the day with 264 yards and two touchdowns, surpassing the 4,000-yard mark—only the fifth rookie in NFL history to achieve this milestone.
The game could be succinctly described as “Nico Collins,” as the Texans, missing their second, third, and fourth receivers, heavily relied on him. Collins contributed nine catches for 195 yards and a touchdown, constituting 74% of the team’s receiving yards—a record in Texans history with a minimum of 200 passing yards.
The pivotal play came when the Colts, trailing 23-19, faced a fourth-and-one at the Texans’ 15 with 1:06 left. Opting not to run Jonathan Taylor, the Colts’ backup quarterback Gardner Minshew threw to Tyler Goodson, who dropped the ball, securing the Texans’ victory.
While the Colts acknowledged progress in their reboot from a four-win season, they also recognized areas for improvement. The lack of depth in the secondary, minimal impact from wide receivers and tight ends, and shaky tackling were apparent weaknesses. However, the Colts, under Steichen, remain a formidable team despite the setback.
A defensive miscalculation by the Colts was evident, with delayed adjustments and missed opportunities for well-timed blitzes. Stroud’s comfort in the pocket proved troublesome for the defense, emphasizing the need for strategic changes.
The game’s biggest hole in the Colts’ plan was defensively, with potential miscalculations and delayed adjustments, particularly evident in a timely blitz called in the fourth quarter that resulted in a sack of Stroud.
A significant moment in the game occurred on the Texans’ first play, as Stroud connected with Collins for a 75-yard touchdown, exposing deep issues in the Colts’ secondary. Personnel changes due to injuries had eroded the depth, and a lack of safety help for rookie cornerback JuJu Brents suggested a blown coverage.
An eye-popping Next Gen stat revealed that the Colts produced 167 of their 227 rushing yards before contact, averaging 4.5 yards before contact on each rush. This performance came against a Houston defense that, on average, allowed only 1.6 yards before contact per rush throughout the season—the best mark in the NFL. Despite the loss, Jonathan Taylor had the second-largest rushing performance of his career with 188 yards.
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