Sep 10, 2023; Baltimore, Maryland, USA; Houston Texans quarterback C.J. Stroud (7) attempts a pass as Baltimore Ravens linebacker Odafe Oweh (99) rushes during the second half at M&T Bank Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Brad Mills-USA TODAY Sports

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Underdog Texans ride CJ Stroud into matchup at Ravens

Houston Texans rookie quarterback C.J. Stroud owns the same number of postseason victories as Baltimore Ravens star Lamar Jackson.

Stroud has rapidly revived the Texans since being the No. 2 overall pick in last April’s draft and now aims to engineer a massive upset Saturday when Houston visits the Ravens in the AFC divisional round.

Baltimore went 13-4 in the regular season to earn the No. 1 seed in the AFC and a first-round bye. The Ravens are led by Jackson, the favorite to earn his second career NFL MVP award.

But with all the fuss surrounding Jackson, his lone playoff victory in four starts was way back in the 2020 season. He missed Baltimore’s postseason loss to the Cincinnati Bengals last season due to a knee injury.

Stroud was electric in his first appearance on the playoff stage. He passed for 274 yards and three touchdowns as the Texans clobbered the Cleveland Browns 45-14 in the wild-card round last Saturday.

“C.J. is the reason why we’re in this position,” Texans coach DeMeco Ryans said. “He’s a special young man and special player and continues to shine. No matter how big the moment is, our whole team is leaning on him, and he has the shoulders to carry the weight. … No moment is too big for him.”

Stroud is ready to make a run at playoff victory No. 2 while many observers are predicting a long day for the Texans.

“We don’t really pay attention to what people say,” Stroud said. “It’s not up to them what goes on when you’re on the field, so it’s really just up to us to go out there and do our jobs, and we believe in ourselves and we trust in ourselves to win games.”

The Ravens expect to see a different version of Stroud than they saw in Week 1.

The strong Baltimore defense sacked Stroud five times in his NFL debut and held Houston out of the end zone in a 25-9 home victory. Stroud was 28-of-44 passing for 242 yards.

It was the start of a campaign in which Stroud has thrown just five interceptions. He now gets a second shot at a defense that ranks No. 1 in scoring defense (16.5 points per game) and sixth in total defense (301.4 yards per game).

“He’s not putting the ball in jeopardy. He’s making plays for his guys and being smart with the ball,” said Ravens safety Geno Stone, who was second in the NFL with seven interceptions. “They’re a different team, but so are we. We made strides as a defense. We’re ready for this opportunity.”

Jackson would like to increase that meager playoff victory count. Though he sizzles in the regular season, Jackson routinely fizzles in the postseason with just three touchdown passes against seven turnovers (five interceptions, two fumbles) in four starts.

Jackson maintains that he’s not feeling pressure with the Ravens viewed as the AFC favorite to reach the Super Bowl.

“It would be great,” Jackson said. “But we are just going to handle everything one day at a time.”

Jackson had a career-high 3,678 passing yards in the regular season and led NFL quarterbacks with 821 rushing yards.

“He’s a dynamic player,” said Texans linebacker Blake Cashman, who had a team-high 106 tackles in the regular season. “One of the more talented players in the league. Possibly our league MVP. We know he can attack it through the air and on the ground running the ball.”

The Ravens hope to have three-time Pro Bowl tight end Mark Andrews, who has been sidelined since undergoing left ankle surgery five days after being hurt against the Bengals on Nov. 16. Andrews was a full practice participant Wednesday.

Four Baltimore players sat out: cornerback Marlon Humphrey (calf), linebackers Jadeveon Clowney (illness) and Del’Shawn Phillips (shoulder) and returner/receiver Tylan Wallace (knee).

Standout defensive ends Will Anderson Jr. (ankle) and Jonathan Greenard (ankle) were among five Texans players to sit out. Also missing were fullback Andrew Beck (back), defensive tackle Sheldon Rankins (ribs, shoulder) and defensive end Jerry Hughes (ankle).

Baltimore won the lone previous playoff meeting, 20-13 in the 2011 season divisional round.

–Field Level Media

Field Level Media
Sport Writer & Editor
FLM has a North American focus while tying into regional and hyper-local resources – providing the ability to distribute compelling content through the writing of professional journalists. As the U.S. sports content provider to dozens of digital and print media publishers through strategic partnerships with the likes of Reuters and Nielsen Sports, FLM covers the nuts and bolts with a breaking news desk and game event coverage.

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