INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — Rookie quarterback C.J. Stroud made all the right calls in the biggest game of his NFL career to help the Houston Texans secure a playoff spot.
Stroud threw for 264 yards and two scores, Devin Singletary scored the go-ahead touchdown on a 3-yard TD run with 6:20 to play and the Texans came up with a late stop for a 23-19 victory over Indianapolis on Saturday night.
“Everybody’s fighting till that last play, that’s what it’s about,” coach DeMeco Ryans said as the Texans shouted and danced after earning their first playoff berth since 2019.. “We punched our ticket.”
Now the waiting begins.
Houston (10-7) either will be one of the AFC’s three wild-card teams or host a wild-card weekend game as the AFC South champs — if Jacksonville loses at Tennessee.
Indianapolis (9-8) was eliminated from the playoff chase with its third loss in five weeks. It hasn’t made the postseason since 2020.
Reaching the postseason sure hasn’t been easy for Houston with a new head coach, a new quarterback and a short-handed receiving. The Texans y
corps or needing a win at a venue where the Texans had only won four times in the previous 20 seasons.
Still, Houston finished the job Saturday with a strong performance — and a little help from Indy.
A blown coverage allowed Stroud to throw a 75-yard TD pass to Nico Collins on the Texans’ first play. Hours later, Colts running back Tyler Goodson was wide open when he dropped a pass on fourth-and-1 from the Houston 15 with 1:06 to go.
“We all have plays that we want back. Just because it’s the last one makes it that much more significant,” Colts quarterback Gardner Minshew said about the fourth-down call. “I told him (Goodson) I’d throw that ball every time. I trust him.”
Stroud finished 20 of 26 with no turnovers and hooked up with Collins nine times for 195 yards and the score. Stroud has with a passer rating of 134.1.
For Indy, it was an odd night full of close calls.
In the first half, the Colts struggled to move the ball, struggled to contain Stroud and rarely tried to stretch the field.
In the second half, they leaned heavily on Jonathan Taylor, who had his best game of the season — 30 carries for 188 yards and a 49-yard TD run early in the third quarter that led to a nifty 2-point conversion from Minshew to Mo Alie-Cox that tied it at 14.
But he injured his ankle and foot in the second half, went briefly to the locker room, then returned for Indy’s final series only to be out of the game on the fateful fourth-down play. Coach Shane Steichen said that was by design.
Steichen’s other big gamble didn’t pay off, either. He opted to try a 57-yard field goal midway through the third quarter that would have broken the 14-14 tie, but Matt Gay’s kick hit the right upright and five plays later Ka’imi Fairbairn made a 51-yarder to give Houston a 17-14 lead.
Indy tied it on Gay’s 35-yard field goal on the ensuing drive, but Stroud responded with a 12-play, 73-yard drive that took more than seven minutes off the clock and ended with Singletary’s TD run.
Minshew was 13 of 24 for 141 yards.
“It wasn’t pretty, but it was gritty,” Ryans said. “We fought and found a way to get it done.”
The Colts thought they would open the fourth quarter facing third-and-1 from the Houston 24, but Steichen challenged the call. When the challenge resulted in a first down, the refs put 45 seconds back on the clock and the players, who had just changed ends, had down field again for one more play to finish the third quarter. Then they changed ends again after the play.
Then in the fourth quarter, a flag was thrown because Indy had too many players on the field. After the snap, the refs waved off the penalty and announced they would have a do-over.
BY THE NUMBERS
Texans: Houston got one sack to give it 46 this season, a franchise record. … Fairbairn missed an extra point for the first time this season, following the go-ahead score. … The Texans improved to 4-4 on the road.
Colts: Josh Downs caught three passes for 48 yards, giving him the franchise-record 68 for a rookie. … Taylor had his first 100-yard game since November 2022. … Minshew finished this season with a career-best seven wins. … Steichen is Indy’s first first-year, non-interim coach to miss the playoffs since Jim Mora in 1997.
Texans: DE Jonathan Greenard (ankle) was inactive for the second straight week and WRs Robert Woods (hip) and Noah Brown (back) also sat out. DE Jerry Hughes left with an ankle injury in the third quarter but later returned.
Colts: Taylor wasn’t the only significant injury Indy suffered. RT Braden Smith left with an injured knee and did not return, and TE Will Mallory and CB JuJu Brents did not return after each suffered a hamstring injury.
Texans: Will wait to see if Jacksonville wins or loses before finding out who and where it plays next weekend.
Colts: Head into the offseason looking to take another big step forward next season.