Winners and losers from Texans' dominant playoff win over Browns

Texans rookie quarterback C.J. Stroud had a record-setting day as the Texans routed the Browns in the AFC wild-card matchup

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The Houston Texans this season became the first team to win a division with a rookie quarterback and rookie head coach.

And that rookie duo now has their first career playoff victory.

The No. 4 Houston Texans defeated the No. 5 Cleveland Browns 45-14 in an AFC wild-card matchup on Saturday. There did not appear to be any playoff debut jitters for quarterback C.J. Stroud or head coach DeMeco Ryans as the Texans, a team that last season was just 3-13-1, advanced to the divisional round.

It was the fifth playoff win in the team's 22-year history. One more victory would make it the franchise's most successful season, with the Texans having gone 0-4 in the divisional round.

To get back there they had to defeat a Browns team that entered with a dominant defense and a thriving veteran quarterback...and neither dominated or thrived against the Texans.

Here's a look at the winners and losers from the Texans' dominant victory over the Browns.

Winner: C.J. Stroud

C.J. Stroud tied a rookie playoff record...and he did it before halftime.

In the first half of his first postseason game, Stroud threw three passing touchdowns to tie the rookie single-game playoff record. He completed 11 of 16 passes for 236 yards in the half, shredding a top-ranked Browns passing defense that allowed just 164.7 passing yards per game. That was capped by a 76-yard touchdown to Brevin Jordan and 37-yard touchdown to Dalton Schultz that gave the Texans a 24-14 halftime lead.

Stroud didn't have to do much in the second half thanks to his defense (more on them later). He finished the game 16-for-21 with 274 yards, and the 22-year-old passed Michael Vick as the youngest starting quarterback to ever win a playoff game.

Loser: The Cleveland Browns defense

The Browns entered as the league's top-ranked defense and departed as the league's most disappointing defense.

It was apparent early on that the Texans were not going to have much trouble advancing the football as the Browns allowed six plays of 20 or more yards in the first half.

During the regular season, the Browns allowed a league-low 270.2 total yards per game, a league-low 164.7 passing yards per game and just 21.3 points per game. Against the Texans on Saturday, the Browns allowed 356 total yards, 280 passing yards and 45 points -- although their offense was responsible for some of those.    

Winner: The Houston Texans defense

The Texans defense made as many trips to the end zone as the Browns offense. And they made both trips within a two-minute span.

Houston intercepted Joe Flacco for a pick-six on back-to-back drives in the third quarter to essentially punch the Texans' ticket to the divisional round.

With Derek Barnett applying pressure, Joe Flacco attempted to throw the ball away but the underthrow was intercepted by Steven Nelson, who returned it 82 yards for the touchdown for a 31-14 lead with 6:05 remaining in the third.

Four plays from scrimmage later, Christian Harris intercepted Flacco and took it 36 yards for the touchdown and a 38-14 lead with 4:06 left in the quarter.

Loser: Joe Flacco

Joe Flacco was looking to set an NFL record with his eighth career postseason road win. Instead, he remains tied with Tom Brady.

The 38-year-old rejuvenated his career after signing with the Browns and starting the final five games of the regular season. Flacco went 4-1 in that span, passing for 1,616 yards and 13 TDs. But he also had eight interceptions in those five games, and that trend continued Saturday as Flacco threw picks on consecutive drives, with each returned for six.

Flacco, who was sacked four times, did complete 34 of 46 passes for 307 yards, including an 11-yard touchdown pass to Kareem Hunt that gave the Browns a 14-10 lead in the second quarter. But that would be the final highlight of the Browns' season.

Flacco falls to 10-6 in career playoff starts.

Winner: Texans fans

There was no winter storm postponement like there was in Buffalo. There was no sub-zero temperature like there was in Kansas City. There was no stress like there is in most playoff games. They simply got to sit back, relax and watch a dominant victory in a climate-controlled environment.  

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