C.J. Stroud threw for three touchdowns, Steven Nelson and Christian Harris each had a pick-6 and the host Houston Texans rolled to a 45-14 victory over the Cleveland Browns on Saturday in an AFC wild-card game.
Stroud completed 16 of 21 passes for 274 yards as Houston won in the postseason for the first time since Jan. 4, 2020.
Stroud (22 years, 102 days) became the youngest quarterback to win a playoff game, surpassing Michael Vick.
“To see a young guy go out there, keep his composure, it kind of instills faith in everybody else as well,” Harris said of Stroud’s impact on the team in a postgame interview with NBC.
Nico Collins had six catches for 96 yards and a touchdown for the Texans (11-7), who rattled off 35 unanswered points after Cleveland’s Kareem Hunt caught an 11-yard touchdown pass with 12:18 left in the second quarter.
Nelson and Harris effectively sealed the victory, with Nelson taking his interception 82 yards to the end zone to give Houston a 31-14 cushion with 6:05 remaining in the third quarter.
The Browns’ offense came back out on the field and ran three plays before Joe Flacco was picked off by Harris, who darted 36 yards to the promised land to make it a 24-point game.
Devin Singletary extinguished any chance of a comeback when he rushed for a 19-yard TD to make it 45-14 early in the fourth. Singletary racked up 66 yards on 13 carries.
Flacco finished with 307 yards, a TD and the two interceptions on 34-for-46 passing. Hunt had a pair of touchdowns (one rushing, one receiving), and David Njoku hauled in seven receptions for 93 yards.
Cleveland (11-7) was outgained 356-324.
It marked the end of a campaign filled with adversity for the Browns, who lost star playmakers Nick Chubb (knee) and Deshaun Watson (shoulder) to season-ending injuries well before the team’s playoff push.
As a replacement for Watson, Cleveland brought in Flacco, who went 4-1 in five regular-season starts.
“I was so fortunate to become a part of this team. It’s a special group,” Flacco said. “Listen, this is why we love football. This is why we love NFL playoffs. It’s 14 really good football teams, and it’s one game. … There’s always a winner and a loser, and (Saturday), like I said, unfortunately for us, we were the loser.”
Just 18 seconds after Hunt brought in his 11-yard score, Stroud hit Brevin Jordan in the flat, and Jordan did the rest, sprinting 76 yards up the right sideline to give the Texans a 17-14 edge with 12 minutes to go until halftime.
Stroud later capped his strong first half with a 37-yard scoring strike to Dalton Schultz with 1:11 left, allowing the Texans to take a 24-14 advantage into the break.
Houston’s Ka’imi Fairbairn opened the scoring with a 21-yard field goal with 5:29 remaining in the first quarter before the teams traded touchdowns.
Hunt’s 1-yard scoring plunge with 2:09 left in the first briefly put Cleveland ahead 7-3, but just 1:58 later, Stroud’s 15-yard scoring strike to Collins made it 10-7.