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The Texans Send Joe Flacco Back To His Couch

10:02 AM EST on January 14, 2024

Christian Harris drags Joe Flacco to the ground in the Browns-Texans wild card game.
Tim Warner/Getty Images

Joe Flacco was actually doing fine until then. It's an ominous sentence to write, especially in the NFL playoffs, since the implication within is a drastic, horrific shift afterward. Well, that would be correct. A competitive first half between the Browns and Texans turned into a blowout after Cleveland's recently reborn quarterback threw a pair of pick-sixes in the third quarter, allowing Houston to comfortably win Saturday's wild card game, 45-14.

The Browns trailed 24-14 in the third quarter when Flacco threw his first pick under duress, right into the arms of Texans cornerback Steven Nelson, who took it 82 yards for a touchdown.

Now trailing 31-14, the Browns offense returned to the field. Two minutes of game time later, on fourth-and-2, Flacco telegraphed a short throw to Harrison Bryant. Texans linebacker Christian Harris jumped in front of the tight end and ran 36 yards for the score.

At that point of the game, it felt like the QB was putting together a sequel to Jake Delhomme's five-interception meltdown against the Cardinals in 2009. But Flacco straightened himself out, somewhat. He threw no more backbreaking picks and, for the remainder of the game, instead ended drives with the more dignified outcome of a turnover on downs. Good for him.

When these two teams played in Week 16, Flacco and the Browns won handily. The significant difference then was that Texans rookie QB C.J. Stroud was out with a concussion, so Cleveland had the opportunity to beat up on Case Keenum and Davis Mills. This time around, Stroud was active and played like he'd been here before, staying calm, finding space in the Browns' defense, and remaining upright. Houston's offensive line allowed no sacks the entire game and gave him time to make big plays, including a 76-yard touchdown to Brevin Jordan. Stroud went 16-for-21 for 274 yards and three TDs, and the 22-year-old became the youngest quarterback in league history to win a playoff game.

Considering the organization's recent history, it's hard to fathom that the Houston Texans already have a promising future. It felt like just yesterday they were in an interregnum with their serial creep of a QB. The hiring of DeMeco Ryans was the team's third attempt at a head coach in as many seasons—remember how close they got to hiring Josh McCown?—and he was stuck with the unenviable task of finding success within the mess left behind by outgoing huckster Jack Easterby. The roster seemed to lack any direction or hope. But as this season has shown, a good draft and a good coach can fast-track the rebuilding process.

Ryans has done an incredible job in his first season in Houston. He and Stroud became the first rookie HC-QB duo with a postseason victory since Rex Ryan and Mark Sanchez achieved the feat with the New York Jets in 2009. Looking at the trajectories of the other three AFC South teams, the Texans should be able to grab more playoff appearances in the future, too. In the present, they'll try to keep this run going. It's not the toughest playoff assignment to hassle late-career Joe Flacco in a home game, but for the Texans, it confirmed that they're more than just a pleasant surprise.

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