The Houston Texans suffered a setback in a 24-21 loss to the Jacksonville Jaguars Sunday that throttled them back into a mosh pit of five-loss teams in the AFC. However, not all losses are created equal. Wins are utilized as a quarterback stat too frivolously, but throughout his rookie season, CJ Stroud has shown how differently he’s built. He’s been knocked down a peg from the blistering hot start where he produced a rookie record for touchdown yards and most pass attempts without an interception to begin a career, but he still walks on rarified air.
Sunday was a microcosm of how much heart CJ Stroud’s got in him. And I’m not talking about the perfectly choreographed touchdown celebration homage to Baby Boy the Texans endzone production played out after his rushing score in the second half.
The Jags knocked Stroud around like they were Jody and Sweetpea in the park. But Stroud never flinched. His ability to take a lick and keep on tickin’ should be evaluated by Sport Science, if that’s still a thing. It makes sense if you examine his backstory. Stroud isn’t your typical Ohio State quarterback. At every level, Stroud has been anything but a sure thing. In high school, he was a late bloomer who rose up the rankings after a strong showing at a Nike sponsored event before his junior year against the top prep quarterback prospects in the country.
A 65-yard deep bomb to Tank Dell on the Texans opening drive was wiped away by a pre-snap illegal formation penalty. The day was full of plays that were inches away from adding a Winto the Texans win column. It’s one thing to make those plays in September, leading by a few touchdowns, but he rose above the combined pressure from the Jags front-seven and a tense battle for playoff positioning heading into November.
His first touchdown of the evening was only possibly because he pirouetted outside the pocket, scrambled and gave Dell an early Secret Santa gift in the endzone. Dell’s seventh touchdown of the season made them only the first quarterback-receiver duo in NFL history to score that many in a single season.
Trailing by 10 points late, Stroud continuously made plays against the division-leading Jaguars defense that should have resulted in a Texans defense. The threat of Stroud running opened up Nico Collins for an untouched gallop into the endzone.
On the final drive, Stroud was dropped for a 15-yard loss, then immediately fired a laser to Collins that picked up 17. Even without those plays, Stroud threw for over 304 yards, two touchdowns, not including a third score on the ground and 47 yards scrambling. His knack for buying time and picking up first downs while getting battered by the Jaguars pass rush was awe-inspiring. The Jaguars manhandled Stroud throughout the fourth quarter, but every time he got knocked down, he activated hero mode and fired back with a strike to keep Houston alive.
Ultimately, the Texans ran out of steam on a final play in which Stroud extended the play behind the line of scrimmage, but was unable to find an open receiver. Faced with a fourth-and-12, DeMeco Ryans opted to attempt a 56-yard field goal that would push the game into overtime. Ammendola’s kick hit the crossbar, but the Texans shouldn’t hang their heads.
Considering the stakes, it’s incredible to remember that Stroud was going throw for throw with Trevor Lawrence. Two years ago, Lawrence was a phenom and the undisputed number one overall pick throughout the draft evaluation process. His rookie season was a complete mess. Stroud has revitalized the Texans after the calamity of an organization they resembled at the end of Deshaun Watson’s tenure. Houston’s baby boy is growing up faster than anyone expected. If any young rookie starter can bounce back, it’s CJ Stroud.
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