McClain: Texans shock Bengals 30-27, move one game behind Jaguars for first place in AFC South


(SportsRadio 610) - The job DeMeco Ryans is doing in his first season as the Texans’ head coach is astounding.

The job C.J. Stroud is doing in his first season as the Texans’ rookie quarterback is astonishing.

Sunday’s 30-27 victory over Cincinnati elevated the Texans’ record to 5-4 and moved Ryans and Stroud into discussions for NFL Coach of the Year and NFL Most Valuable Player.

If you need evidence of such bold claims – echoed by national and local media covering the NFL -- check this out: At Cincinnati, against a Super Bowl contender with a four-game winning streak, Stroud engineered a second consecutive game-winning drive. He took the Texans 55 yards in six plays, setting up Matt Ammendola’s 38-yard field goal with no time remaining that gave them the three-point victory.

The Texans are physically and mentally tough – a carbon copy of their head coach. They have a 5-2 record in their last seven games. Both of those defeats came in road games on field goals with no time left.

A team projected to be among the three-worst in the NFL has already won five games for the first time since 2019, the last season they won the AFC South on their way to a playoff victory over Buffalo.

Why shouldn’t Ryans be mentioned among the leading candidates to be voted NFL Coach of the Year?

“It’s about them, not me,” Ryans said in his usual humble fashion. “It’s all about these guys in the locker room and the work they put in day after day that no one sees. They were the best team for three hours, and that’s all that matters.

“Whatever has happened in the past is in the past. We’re the 2023 Texans, and we’re moving forward.”

The Texans’ victory, coupled with Jacksonville’s home loss to San Francisco, left the Jaguars with a 6-3 record, one game ahead of the Texans in the AFC South. The Texans’ next three games are at NRG Stadium against Arizona, Jacksonville and Denver.

“(I’m) so proud of the way our guys fought and for them finding a way to win,” Ryans said. “We talked about this on Saturday night, just doing whatever it takes -- finish every snap. They made the plays that helped us win the game. There were a lot of mistakes we made to make the game close. There are things we can clean up, and it’s better to clean them up after a win.”

The Texans led 27-17 with less than four minutes left in the game and almost blew it, but Stroud rallied them to a victory just like he did in the previous victory over Tampa Bay.

Stroud overcame three turnovers, including his second interception of the season, and two fumbles, to complete 23-of-39 (59 percent) for 356 yards and a touchdown. He also ran for a touchdown. He averaged 9.1 yards per attempt, was sacked one time and had an 87.1 rating.

Stroud became the only quarterback in history to have at least 2,500 yards and 15 touchdowns with fewer than five interceptions in his first nine games. He’s the only rookie in the last 44 years to lead back-to-back, game-winning drives in the last two minutes.

Why shouldn’t Stroud be among the players mentioned as MVP candidates?

“The thing about CJ is (he’s) the calm in the chaos,” Ryans said. “He doesn’t waver. He’s confident he’s going to make plays, and the moment isn’t too big for him. He played in a lot of big games at Ohio State. He’s been under the bright lights before, and he’s made big plays. He doesn’t get wide-eyed when the moment comes.

“C.J. has given confidence to our team and organization. If you want to win tight games, you’ve got to have a quarterback who can make those big-time plays to put you in position to win games. It starts with him.”

On a picture-perfect afternoon in Cincinnati, the Texans played their best offensive game of the season. Their season-high 544-yard performance followed a 496-yard effort in the Stroud-orchestrated comeback victory over the Bucs.

“It’s impressive to see a young kid make mistakes and grow from them in the same game,” Ryans said. “After his interception, he let me know he’s got me, and (he’s) going to make a play to help us win the game.”

And Stroud did make the play to win the game, more than one, actually. But he was far from the whole show.

Most impressive was the way the Texans ran for a season-best 188 yards, including a career-high 150 by Devin Singletary.

Singletary, whose nickname is “Motor,” followed exceptional run blocking – the most dominating this season – and plowed through the Bengals’ defense averaging 5 yards a carry.

Singletary, who was starting in place of the injured Dameon Pierce for the second game in a row, left the Cincinnati defense bewildered. But he wasn’t the only player to ransack the Bengals’ defense.

“Credit to the O-line and Motor for the way he ran the football,” Ryans said. “It was impressive to see, and I love the way he finished all of his runs.”

Playing without leading receiver Nico Collins, Noah Brown took his place and had another exceptional game. He caught seven passes for 172 yards – six good for 20-plus yards and four for 25-plus. Since returning three games ago from injured reserve, Brown has 16 catches for 382 yards, a 23.8 average.

Defensively, Sheldon Rankins registered three of the Texans’ four sacks, a career high. Jonathan Greenard had the other sack. The linemen made Burrow’s life miserable for much of the afternoon, including nine knockdowns.

“It was awesome to see what Rankins can do for us,” Ryans said. “The pressure he got today was consistent pressure on the pocket. And for him to get three sacks, that’s a huge game for us.”

Cornerback Shaquill Griffin intercepted Burrow in the end zone. Safety DeAndre Houston-Carson intercepted him at the Texans’ 31.

And let’s not forget about Ammendola, signed last week to the practice squad to replace the injured Ka’imi Fairbairn, who’s going to miss at least four games with a quad injury after being placed on injured reserve. Ammendola kicked three field goals under pressure-packed circumstances.

At one point, the Bengals had to punt on five consecutive possessions. Burrow got hot in the second half and finished with 347 yards and two touchdowns to go with his interceptions. If his pass to Tyler Boyd in the end zone had not been dropped, the Texans would have been forced to score a touchdown to win the game.

But Stroud was up to the task again. His 25-yard pass to Dalton Schultz and 22-yarder to Brown put the Texans in position to use their last timeout with 4 seconds left. Then Ammendola put the Bengals out of their misery.

“Matt did an unbelievable job,” Ryans said. “He’s a veteran kicker who’s done it before. We’re happy to have him. The confidence we had in him and his range – he nailed it. Three field goals, and the game-winner after being with us for a week.”

So the Texans shocked the world at Cincinnati. Of their five victories, only one, Tampa Bay, was against a team that currently has a losing record.

“It’s not about shocking the world,” Ryans said. “It’s about the guys in our locker room believing in each other and going (out) to prove it one step at a time. That’s all that matters.”

John McClain can be heard Tuesday, Wednesday and Friday on SportsRadio 610 and Monday, Thursday and Sunday on Texans Radio, also on SportsRadio 610. He writes five columns a week and does three Houtopia Football Podcasts for

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