C.J. Stroud often played beyond his 22 years during what was an historic rookie season for the Houston Texans' quarterback. Stroud's impressive maturity and perspective was on display all season, too, and it was again after Houston's stellar season ended Saturday in Baltimore in the AFC divisional round of the playoffs.
Stroud paused before giving a thoughtful response when asked if he would consider the Texans' 2023 season a success. It was clear that Stroud was planning on playing beyond this weekend, but it wasn't meant to be. After fighting to a halftime tie, Stroud's team fell short against a superior Ravens team that outscored them 24-0 in the second half en route to a 34-10 win.
"It's hard to answer that right now," Stroud said, via Texans reporter James Roy. "I know where I come from in college, if you don't win it all, then it's kind of a fail. So that's kind of the mindset I have. I think we have the capability, we have the team to do it.
"We came up short. So you can't look back and be like, we didn't do nothing special," Stroud continued. "You've got to look back and smile throughout everything. But at the same time, it's like ... what if. That's the worst feeling, you know, is having regrets. What if I did this, what if I did that. Just learning experiences."
Stroud is right. Houston wasn't expected to sniff the playoffs, let alone win the AFC South. But Houston did just that, led by Stroud, first-year head coach DeMeco Ryans and a defense that was one of the league's best in several areas during the regular season. Despite a nasty concussion that sidelined him for two late-season games, Stroud returned for Week 17 and helped the Texans win their final two regular season games to clinch the division.
The Texans then defeated the Browns on Super Wild Card Weekend to capture the franchise's first playoff win since 2018. Stroud was excellent in that game; he threw three touchdowns and completed 76.2 percent of his passes in Houston's 45-14 win.
Stroud, whose perspective following Saturday's game likely stems from playing college football at ultra-competitive Ohio State, played well on Saturday. He actually threw for more yards than Lamar Jackson and put the Texans in position to take the lead late in the first half with two big completions to Nico Collins.
But Houston missed a field goal attempt, and Stroud and the rest of Houston's offense was unable to stay on the field in the second half. Penalties and a lack of a running game were two big reasons for the Texans' offensive struggles.
Make no mistake, Stroud is proud of the season he and his teammates had. In time, Stroud will surely take more time to soak in everything he and his team accomplished. But Saturday night wasn't the time for that. Instead, Stroud showed the competitive fire that has gotten him to this point, and will likely lead to more success moving forward.
"I'm upset right now, but I'm really just blessed looking back on this year, this opportunity we had today to play in front of millions of people," he said. "I'm just really grateful to God for all of the opportunities that he's blessed me with. Just gonna lean on him and I know that this isn't the end for me. There's a lot more football for me to play and I'm just excited for that.
"I'm just super blessed with the guys who I lined it up with every week this year, and I'm just really, really thankful to God just on how much he's brought me from really, I can go all the back to when when I was a kind, to college, to Week 1, to now. I've grown as a person and as a man of God in a lot of different ways. I'm just really blessed for that."