There's Lamar Jackson, and clearly Patrick Mahomes. Obviously Josh Allen. And ... well, let's just say the list is surprisingly short and this isn't the time to rank Stroud anyway. He and the Texans have more playoff football to worry about first.
Houston advanced with a lopsided 45-14 win over the Cleveland Browns in the opening game of the NFL wild-card playoff round Saturday in Houston. The big story was Stroud. His incredible rookie season has been one of the big stories of the NFL season.
Late this season, there was a lot of hype that the Browns' elite defense made them a Super Bowl contender. Stroud torched that defense and sent the Browns home. Stroud had 236 yards and three touchdowns, and that was just in the first half. Only nine rookies in NFL history had more than 236 passing yards in an entire playoff game. He was the first rookie quarterback in NFL playoff history to throw three touchdowns in the first half. No Texans QB had ever thrown three touchdowns in a playoff game, and Stroud did it before halftime.
Stroud continues to impress. With every challenge, he seems to raise his level even further. Quite simply, we've never seen a rookie quarterback like Stroud.
C.J. Stroud shines in playoff debut
It wasn't just Stroud who had the Texans off to a fast start, of course. Texans offensive coordinator Bobby Slowik, who will be a hot name in the coaching carousel, confused the Browns with a dizzying array of misdirection plays. Stroud's teammates made big plays, most notably Brevin Jordan taking a short pass, cutting inside and outrunning the defense for a 76-yard score. It was the second-longest touchdown by a tight end in NFL playoff history.
But Stroud executed everything at a high level, like he has done all season.
Stroud's touchdown pass to Dalton Schultz was a great example of everything the Texans did right. Stroud rolled to his right, set up and threw back across the middle of the field deep to Schultz. The misdirection crossed up the Browns secondary. Then Stroud threw a perfect pass downfield for a 37-yard score.
That big play turned a close game into a 10-point Texans lead at the half. They never looked back.
And for all of the praise coming to Stroud after a stunning first half, it was the Texans' defense that made a couple of big plays to open up a huge lead. Or, perhaps it's better to say Browns quarterback Joe Flacco gave Houston those big plays.
Texans D puts the game away
The Browns trailed 24-14 and Flacco had also been playing well when he made the one mistake that put Cleveland in a big hole.
Under pressure, Flacco blindly threw a pass downfield. Cornerback Steven Nelson camped under it like a pop fly to center field, made the interception and had a clear path downfield. Getting behind his blocks, Nelson ran 82 yards for a touchdown. Then, the Texans really put the game away with another pick 6 on Cleveland's next drive. Flacco threw it to linebacker Christian Harris, who picked it off and had an easy 36-yard return for the score. Houston outscored the Browns 21-0 in the second half.
— NFL (@NFL) January 13, 2024
Stroud had a chance to break the rookie playoff record for passing yards in a game, which is 385 by Russell Wilson, but the Browns weren't competitive enough to give Stroud a shot at it. The game got out of hand while the Texans' defense scored twice, keeping Stroud on the sideline. Stroud took a seat for most of the fourth quarter, with backup QB Davis Mills finishing out the game. Stroud didn't even get to 300 yards due to the blowout, which is something only four other rookies have ever done in the playoffs. He finished with 274 yards and a nearly perfect 157.2 passer rating.
And there are no complaints from the Texans. They got a dominant win over a Browns team that many seemed to believe could win a Super Bowl. There will be more playoff games and chances to break records for Stroud. He has at least one more playoff game this season. And likely many more to come over the next decade.