The Houston Texans have a winner with C.J. Stroud.
The rookie quarterback stunned the Tampa Bay Buccaneers on Sunday, leading a six-play, 70-yard touchdown drive in 40 seconds to secure a 39-37 win over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. He hit Tank Dell for a 15-yard touchdown with six seconds remaining to cap a frantic final quarter that saw the Texans lean on a running back to kick a field goal.
The score capped a historic day for Stroud, who torched the Bucs for 470 passing yards and five touchdowns. The passing total is the most ever by a rookie quarterback.
Stroud's game-winner arrived after Bucs quarterback Baker Mayfield led a 10-play, 61-yard touchdown drive to give the Bucs the lead with 46 seconds remaining. The Tampa Bay touchdown was in response to a go-ahead field goal by Texans running back, Dare Ogunbowale.
RB Dare Ogunbowale delivers go-ahead field goal
The Texans lost kicker Ka’imi Fairbairn to a quad injury in the first half, forcing them to shift their game plan. The injury prompted head coach DeMeco Ryans to go for two points following subsequent touchdowns. But when it came down to a chance to take a lead or gamble on fourth down late in the game, Ryans called on Ogunbowale.
The backup running back handled kickoff duties following Fairbairn's injury. Then, with 8:48 left in a 30-30 game, Ryans sent him out for a 29-yard field goal on fourth-and-goal from the Tampa Bay 11-yard line.
Ogunbowale delivered, sending his kick inside the left upright to give the Texans a 33-30 lead.
— Yahoo Sports (@YahooSports) November 5, 2023
The field goal was the first by a non-kicker in a regular season game since Wes Welker kicked one as a rookie for the Miami Dolphins in 2004. It helped ensure that Stroud's record day on offense didn't go to waste.
Bucs respond with late go-ahead TD
Both teams traded punts following Ogunbowale's field goal before the Bucs delivered what looked like a game-winning touchdown drive. Tampa Bay started its go-ahead drive at its 39-yard line then faced third-and-23 after an eight-yard loss and a false start. But Mayfield hit Trey Palmer over the middle to set up fourth-and-two.
The Bucs converted the fourth down on a Mayfield scramble, eventually setting up a 15-yard strike in the end from Mayfield to tight end Cade Otton.
— NFL (@NFL) November 5, 2023
The score gave the Bucs a 37-33 lead with 46 seconds remaining, setting Stroud up for his last-minute heroics.
Other than a spike to stop the clock, Stroud completed all five of his pass attempts on Houston's game-winning drive. As he has been for much of the season, fellow rookie Dell was Stroud's most trusted target.
Facing second-and-10 at the Tampa Bay 41-yard line with 16 seconds remaining, Stroud looked deep down the left sideline to a sprinting Dell who'd found a gap in the Buccaneers' zone. Dell secured the catch, then dragged his left toe to stay in bounds for a 26-yard gain.
This throw and catch to set up the game-winning touchdown.
CJ Stroud 🤝 Tank Dell pic.twitter.com/58yhquLlHE
— NFL (@NFL) November 5, 2023
Stroud then hit Dell for the game-winning touchdown on the next play. The score was the second of the day for Dell, who hauled in six catches for 114 yards. It's the kind of effort that would normally bolster an offensive Rookie of the Year campaign for Dell, who entered Sunday with 340 yards and two touchdowns in six games.
But the Rookie of the Year campaign is Stroud's and Stroud's alone.
Best performance of C.J. Stroud's remarkable rookie campaign
The Texans selected Stroud with the No. 2 overall pick in April's draft after the Carolina Panthers selected Bryce Young No. 1. Stroud started Week 1 and has delivered with what's shaping up to be an all-time great rookie season.
He entered Sunday completing 60.3% of his passes for 7.6 yards per attempt and 257.1 yards per game with nine touchdowns and a single interception. His 0.4% interception rate was the best in the NFL.
He improved on that remarkable rate Sunday, completing 30 of 42 passes for 470 yards with five touchdowns and no interceptions. He spread the ball around, with Noah Brown (153 yards, one touchdown) and tight end Dalton Schultz (130 yards, one touchdown) joining Dell in surpassing 100 receiving yards. Brown's touchdown arrived on a deep strike from Stroud at midfield that he took to the end zone for 75 yards.
Stroud's passing performance Sunday was the best of the season based on the NFL's Next Generation Stats metrics. He did the bulk of his damage with the deep ball, completing six of eight attempts on passes of 20-plus yards through the air for 199 yards and three touchdowns.
C.J. Stroud broke the single-game rookie passing yardage record (470), while recording the highest NGS passing score (96) by any QB in a game this season.
Stroud (20+ Air Yards)
🔹Today: 6/8, 199 yards, 3 TD
🔹2023: +21.5% CPOE (1st in NFL)
Powered by @awscloud pic.twitter.com/VBD8fUdEO8
— Next Gen Stats (@NextGenStats) November 5, 2023
These are the kinds of stats veteran MVP candidates dream of.
Houston's passing attack is one of the NFL's best, and the Texans' 4-4 start has them in the AFC playoff hunt. Stroud, now eight games into his NFL career, projects to get only better from here. It's a frightening prospect for the rest of the AFC and cause for celebration for a Texans franchise that has long sought an answer at quarterback.