A battle between two determined franchises welcomed NFL fans to the Divisional Round. DeMeco Ryans’ and his unit worked hard to make it to this point of the campaign. They would not go down without a fight. A win against the Baltimore Ravens would send C.J. Stroud and company to the AFC Championship game. It would be the first time in franchise history, but first, the Houston Texans had to handle business Saturday afternoon.
Houston Texans used Wild Card momentum during the first half
Anticipation for the first game of a long weekend began immediately after wild card weekend. A victory against the Cleveland Browns shocked fans throughout the NFL community. They were underdogs despite achieving success throughout the regular season. A stout defensive effort helped DeMeco Ryans breeze by Joe Flacco and his teammates. Matt Burke’s group returned two interceptions for touchdowns. They also held the Browns to 14 points. C.J. Stroud limited turnovers and kept the offense moving throughout the game. It set the tone for an important match-up against the NFL’s most lethal dual-threat quarterback.
Protecting the end zone was Houston's focus during the first half. They put pressure (11) on Lamar Jackson and eliminated rushing lanes. Sending extra men on blitzes helped Matt Burke’s unit carry momentum into the third quarter. It forced Jackson to get rid of the ball earlier than expected - resulting in incompletions. Christian Harris and Blake Cashman were the catalysts for a determined group. They covered sideline to sideline and made plays in the clutch.
It took C.J. Stroud and his peers a few drives to get the offense moving. The rookie quarterback extended plays and relied on his receivers to come down with the football. Bobby Slowik’s playcalling was conservative during the first 24 minutes. It was clear, his mission was to protect the football and reassure his inexperienced gunslinger. A 67-yard punt return by Steven Sims was the only touchdown for the Texans in the opening quarters. Ka’imi Fairbairn contributed a 50-yard field goal in the first minutes of the half but missed his second attempt to close the half. The Ravens received the football little time to add points to the scoreboard. Houston’s defense forced a punt - leaving the score at ten all.
Houston Texans fans should not be dissapointed with the outcome of 2023 season
Todd Monken’s offense came out to strike on the opening drive of the third quarter. His group benefited from a 37-yard kick-off return by Devin Duvernay. They determined to make the most of good positioning. Lamar Jackson reminded the home fans why he is an MVP candidate. He threw darts to multiple receivers and finished Baltimore’s drive with a 15-yard touchdown run. His dual-threat abilities put defenders on their heels for the rest of the half. DeMeco Ryans’ called blitzes to disrupt the pocket. He hoped it would slow down Monken’s group before the game became out of reach. The Ravens responded with additional blockers and more run options for their quarterback. A last-second drive at the end of the quarter resulted in an Isiah Likely touchdown. Houston entered the fourth quarter with a 14-point deficit to climb to keep their post-season dreams alive.
Stalemates on offense kept C.J. Stroud and his teammates from gaining ground. Mike MacDonald’s defense remained aggressive and limited big plays. An unproductive rushing attack made Bobby Slowik’s scheme one-dimensional. His offense needed to score points, and passing the ball became his only option. A fourteen-point lead and a relentless pass rush placed the games on the rookie’s shoulders. He kept his poise and did his best to make plays. In the end, there was nothing he could do.
The Houston Texans had an amazing season. They set records the franchise can relish for years and made progress to build on in the future. A loss in the Divisional Round is viewed as a failed season for some franchises, but not Houston. We’ve watched DeMeco Ryans build this team from the ground up. His success deserves recognition. The players on his roster deserve praise. A long off-season will present the Texans a chance to improve for the upcoming season. The Houston Texans will be back to rewrite history next year.