The Houston Texans had their first home game of the season when they faced the Indianapolis Colts on Sunday, Sept. 16.
Over 71,000 fans packed out NRG Stadium, cheering excitedly for the home team. But many of them would leave disappointed (and possibly bruised).
The game was divisional, as the Texans and Colts both vie for control of the AFC South. Both teams were coming off Week 1 losses; both have brand-new quarterbacks. Texans quarterback C.J. Stroud was the No. 2 pick in this year’s NFL Draft; Colts QB Anthony Richardson was the No. 4 pick.
Sunday’s game was only the second game in NFL history to start two quarterbacks under 22. According to NBC Sports, the last game with two QBs this young was 2015. And both quarterbacks had a rough day, with Richardson exiting early due to injury and Stroud being beat up by the Colts defense.
Indianapolis was in control from the very start. Barely four minutes into the first quarter, Richardson stepped back to throw and then took off. Richardson ran right through a gap in the Texans defense, streaking almost untouched into the end zone for the touchdown.
Stroud didn’t fare as well on the Texans’ first drive. On 3rd down, Stroud got sacked by Colts defensive end Samson Ebukam. Stroud lost control of the ball, which was recovered by the Colts. And Indianapolis cashed in quickly, scoring on the next play. Richardson again scored with his legs, rushing for a 15-yard touchdown despite a massive hit from Texans safety M.J. Stewart, who ran headfirst into his shoulder. Richardson flew backwards, hitting the back of his head on the turf. But his daring play helped the Colts jump out to a 14-0 lead.
The Texans bounced back with their own scoring drive, going 68 yards in 13 plays and just under six minutes. C.J. Stroud found Texans wide receiver Nico Collins for an 8-yard touchdown reception.
The Colts went three-and-out on their next drive, and so did the Texans after Stroud was sacked by Colts defender E.J. Speed. Indianapolis led 14-7 at the end of the first quarter.
Though Anthony Richardson completed the first quarter, he realized early in the second that something wasn’t right. Richardson self-reported concussion symptoms before staff escorted him to the locker room. Tests confirmed that Richardson had suffered a concussion; he was out for the rest of the game. So Colts QB Gardner Minshew came in as backup.
About five minutes into the second quarter, Minshew found tight end Will Mallory for a 43-yard catch-and-run. Then Colts running back Zack Moss carried the ball for seven yards before running in nearly untouched for an 11-yard touchdown. Indianapolis led Houston 21-7 with 12:45 remaining in the second quarter.
The Texans responded with their own scoring drive, as Stroud completed first-down passes to receivers Nico Collins and Robert Woods. After a nine-play, 64-yard drive, Texans kicker Ka’imi Fairbairn drilled a 29-yard field goal attempt.
But the Colts extended their lead in just minutes. Minshew tossed to tight end Kylen Granson, who dove near the end zone as he was tackled. Initially, he was ruled short of the goal line. But after further review, referees ruled that Granson had extended the ball across the pylon for a touchdown. The Colts led the Texans 28-10 at halftime.
Houston fans were frustrated by the team’s lack of production on offense, and that frustration began to boil over in the third quarter. The Colts added to their lead when kicker Matt Gay drilled a 42-yard field goal to put them up 31-10. That apparently sent some people over the edge.
At some point around this time, Texans fans got into a brawl near NRG’s Bud Light Lounge. Two pairs of men slugged it out near the concessions area, throwing punches as they fell to the ground. As the bodies hit the floor, some bystanders tried to intervene. But they, too, fell down, slipping and sliding on an apparently wet floor. The entire fight was captured on video.
Meanwhile, the Texans were fighting to catch up to their rivals. They were driving when the third quarter ended. But a 13-play, 70-yard drive fell apart near the red zone. First, Stroud’s touchdown pass to receiver Tank Dell was overturned due to an offensive holding penalty. Then Stroud got sacked on third down by defensive end Kwity Paye, losing six yards on the play. Houston settled for three; Fairbairn kicked a 36-yard field goal to make it 31-13 early in the fourth quarter.
After a punt by the Colts, Texans receiver Robert Woods caught a pass from Stroud and ran nearly untouched into the end zone. Texans fans roared their approval at what looked like a touchdown. But video replay showed that Woods stepped out of bounds near the 25-yard line.
Two plays later, Stroud threw to rookie receiver Tank Dell for a 23-yard score. It was Dell’s first NFL career touchdown (he spent three years at the University of Houston). The Texans pulled closer, trailing the Colts 31-20 with 9:48 remaining.
Houston’s defense kept Indianapolis from scoring for the entire fourth quarter. And with three minutes to go, the Texans offense was finally gaining some momentum. Stroud completed a 32-yard pass to Nico Collins and then two consecutive throws to tight end Dalton Schultz. But Stroud got sacked on the following play, and it was 4th down.
The Texans attempted a field goal; the result was a disaster. First, Fairbairn’s kick got blocked by Colts defensive end Dayo Odeyingbo; then referees threw a flag for a false start on the offense. (That backed the Texans up five yards, taking them from a 46-yard attempt to a 51-yard field goal attempt.) Houston retried the field goal, but the ball sailed wide left; the kick was no good. The Texans had blown their chance to score. And with just 2:44 left to play, any hope of winning had evaporated. Disappointed fans began filing out of the stadium.
The Texans fell to the Colts, 31-20. C.J. Stroud went 30-for-47, throwing for 384 yards and two touchdowns. But he also got sacked six times and hit nine times on top of that. Stroud got beaten up all day, thanks largely to a makeshift offensive line that was without star left tackle Laremy Tunsil (out due to a knee injury). Right tackle Tytus Howard has a broken hand and center Juice Scruggs has a hamstring injury; two other linemen have been placed on season-ending injured reserve.
Texans head coach Demeco Ryans was understanding of the offensive line’s struggles with injury, telling postgame reporters that “we don’t want to see the quarterback get hit, but I thought the guys’ offense took a move in the right direction today. They got better overall.”
What concerned him more (predictably) was the defense. “Defensively today, we weren’t good enough. If we want to be a good defense, it all starts up front – stopping the run. We did not stop the run. We did not tackle well. Fundamental football wasn’t good enough. If you want to win games in this league, we’ve got to play better.”
C.J. Stroud also spoke of needing to play better, though he revealed after the game that a shoulder injury nearly kept him out of the game altogether. But he fought through it. “Trying to fight my tail off just to be able to play because my shoulder was hurting me. But, at the end of the day, I wanted to be out there for my guys, and I wanted to play.
The Texans are off to an 0-2 start, but Stroud isn’t discouraged: “I think there’s hope. I think we showed that today, that we’re going to fight, and we’re not just going to turn around and lay down just because the score flips early. We’re going to keep fighting till the end.”
Just like those fans.