Riding into November on a fiery streak of last second victories, it felt justified for the Houston Texans to don their vibrant all-red uniforms ahead of Sunday’s game against the Jacksonville Jaguars. Such a hotly anticipated matchup should have threads to match the hype, but it unfortunately would not provide Houston the fortune to win yet again. The calling cards of points, turnovers, and hysterics all dotted the game yet again, but sadly, a Texans victory did not follow suit. The bitter rival Jacksonville Jaguars evened their 2023 record against Houston, winning on Sunday 24-21.
Despite the hype surrounding the quarterback battle - Jacksonville's Trevor Lawrence vs. Houston’s C.J. Stroud - it was the trench battle between them both that seemed to dictate the pace of the game. It was on this front where Houston lost the matchup, never sacking Lawrence, allowing Jacksonville to go 7-13 on third down, and losing the time-of-possession battle, as well. Lawrence targeted the middle the field early and often, receiver Calvin Ridley and running back Travis Etienne the primary culprits to Houston’s suffering.
On the other side of the ball, C.J. Stroud was, and I say this in danger of sounding like a broken clock, the engine to the entire offense. 351 of Houston’s total 395 total yards, three total touchdowns, and a few more highlight-reel passes to rookie receiver Tank Dell all matched the adrenaline-pumping stats that Texans fans have grown to expect on a weekly basis, but was just barely not enough to give Houston the division lead. It was another fantastic, season-defining performance from Stroud (until the very end), but his luck ran out on Sunday.
Fortunately for the Texans, this loss comes from one of the few teams left in the AFC ranked above Houston. Jacksonville was already ahead of Houston in most power rankings, so such a close loss to them should deter any overzealous analysts from sending the Texans tumbling down the rankings. Although, another game where the Texans couldn’t get much going on the ground and, yet again, needed the rookie passer to lead the way is going to start growing stale. To keep winning, Houston is going to have to show the capability of taking more roads to victory. C.J. Stroud is clearly one of the best quarterbacks in the league right now, but his chances of victory will slowly drop until Houston has found a worthy offensive compliment to his abilities.
Houston Texans CJ Stroud continues to make NFL History.— NFL Rumors (@nflrums) November 28, 2023
The first rookie with 4 straight 300 + yard passing games.
Also, this week broke the record for most passing yards in first 11 games. pic.twitter.com/VVnMjFm2L1
Here’s where the Houston Texans are ranked entering Week 13 of the season:
11. Houston Texans (6-5) (Last Week: 10)
Coming up short against the Jaguars means the Texans have their work cut out for them if they want to make the playoffs. This one stings because the Jags are more than a game up in the AFC South and currently hold the tiebreakers, with better division and conference marks. The Texans certainly had their chances to win, but some painful penalties on both sides of the ball really hurt. So did C.J. Stroud’s three second-half sacks, shaky coverage in the secondary (Tavierre Thomas had a forgettable game) and the missed field-goal tries at the end of each half by Matt Ammendola. There’s still a clear path to the postseason for Houston, but it starts with a win over 6-5 Denver in Week 13 and might stretch all the way to the Week 18 game at Indianapolis.
- Eric Edholm
12. Houston Texans (6-5)
Week 12 ranking: 12
Special teams: 5
The Texans’ offense has been great — ranking ninth in offensive points per game (22.9) — mainly because of rookie QB C.J. Stroud. Stroud is second in passing yards (3,266), seventh in touchdowns (19 yards) and has thrown for the most passing yards for a rookie through his first 11 starts of a career. That’s why they have a chance to make the playoffs. But the defense has regressed of late. Going into Week 9 against the Buccaneers, the Texans ranked eighth in scoring defense (18.3). Since then, they have fallen to 14th (21.1).
- DJ Bien-Aime
12. Houston Texans (6–5) (Last Week: 12)
Last week: loss vs. Jacksonville, 24–21
Next week: vs. Denver
I didn’t leave Sunday overly discouraged by the Texans, especially given the drive with a little more than five minutes left in the fourth quarter to put the game within three points. Surprise, CJ Stroud is still splitting defenders and playing cool. The one mistake he made—taking a massive sack that put the Texans into a second-and-25 situation on a potential game-tying or game-winning drive—looked like a screen that simply developed too slowly. Would we rather Stroud have pulled a Mac Jones and alley-ooped the ball to a place where a defender could grab it? He’s good enough to make up the difference. In a year, he’ll throw-spike that ball into the grass like Peyton Manning used to.
- Conor Orr
10. Houston Texans (6-5)
Last Week: 11
Week 12 Results: Lost vs. Jacksonville 24-21
Frankly, if the Houston Texans didn’t win another game this season, the 2023 campaign might still exceed expectations. But rookie phenom C.J. Stroud has already sailed this team past “improvement” and “respectability.” These Texans are trying to stun the NFL and make the postseason.
Sunday’s close loss to the Jaguars didn’t help the team’s chances of doing so. But Stroud told reporters that if you think these Texans are going to wilt after this setback, you have another thing coming.
“It’s a long season, man. I don’t think it hurts us like that. Of course, divisional [opponent], you want to win the game,” Stroud said. “It hurts us pretty significant, man. It’s about the mindset, though. What are we going to do? Not play anymore? We’re just going to tuck our tail and not play hard? No, I don’t really believe in that type of mindset.”
“The Texans lost Sunday,” Davenport said, “but Stroud’s legend just continues to grow. After 304 passing yards against the Jaguars, he has more passing yards through the first 11 games of a career than any quarterback in NFL history. He’s the only rookie quarterback in NFL history to top 300 passing yards in four consecutive games. And he’s on pace to become the first 5,000-yard rookie the NFL has ever seen. Whether the Texans win a playoff game or even make the postseason, they already won the 2023 campaign. They did so the moment they drafted Stroud.”
- Gary Davenport, Maurice Moton, Brent Sobleski
Average Ranking: 11.25 (Last Week Average: 11.25) - Perfect Stagnation!
It’s nice to see the Texans not get punished too harshly for this loss, but man does this sting. This was a game that would have completely changed the national narrative surrounding Houston yet again this season, sending them from plucky underling to division-leading powerhouse already primed for a playoff push. So close to validation for the Nick Caserio’s great team building this year, yet so far.
Although, maybe it’s a good thing to have harsh losses like this. For so long, Houston was not even in competition with these playoff-caliber teams, and when they were, it was always ruined by a disastrous turnover or an awful sequence of events in the fourth-quarter that sent our hopes of a miraculous victory spiraling down the drain. Losing was the one constant of the Houston Texans from 2020-2022, and it became numbing. Now, after all of that time spent in the darkness, Houston has exploded into the light of playoff contention thanks to rookie quarterback C.J. Stroud. Because of him, Houston fans no longer expect to lose every Sunday, and losses like these can be actually crushing instead of numbing. As much as it stings, that, above everything else, is a sign of real progress.
Next week, it doesn’t get much easier for the Texans, as they host the Denver Broncos, fresh off a win against the mighty Cleveland Browns (yes, I really just said that.) Denver, like Houston, has launched themselves into the AFC wildcard race following a lengthy win streak. Hard to believe this was the same defense that gave up 70 against the Dolphins, as it may just be C.J. Stroud’s biggest test thus far.
What do you think, though? What did last week’s game tell you about the Texans? What did last week’s game against the Browns tell you about the Denver Broncos? Is C.J. Stroud ready for this test on defense, or will this game get ugly? Let us know in the comments below!