HOUSTON (AP) — Houston quarterback C.J. Stroud was talking to some old friends this week about the challenges he has faced early in his NFL career.
He said one of them told him: “No one said it was going to be easy.”
It certainly wasn't easy on Sunday.
Stroud threw for 384 yards and two touchdowns, but the No. 2 overall pick in the NFL draft was hurried and harassed all day while playing behind a makeshift line during a 31-20 loss to the Indianapolis Colts.
The 21-year-old Stroud was sacked six times and hit nine other times. The Texans (0-2) lost four starters on the line during camp and were also without star left tackle Laremy Tunsil on Sunday because of a knee injury.
“Guys are still going out trying to do the best they can do,” coach DeMeco Ryans said. “Doing the job that we ask them to do. Of course, we would like it better. Don’t want to see the quarterback get hit. But I thought the offense took a move in the right direction today, got better overall.”
Sunday’s six-sack day comes after Stroud was sacked five times in a loss to Baltimore in the opener, and he struggled with a shoulder injury this week.
“Had a hard week and had to fight my tail off just to be able to play,” he said. “My shoulder was hurting me, but I wanted to be out there for my guys. I wanted to play.”
The Colts got to Stroud almost immediately. He fumbled when he was sacked by Samson Ebukam on Houston’s third play, and it was recovered by Indianapolis at the 15. Anthony Richardson made it 14-0 when he ran 15 yards for the score on the next play.
Despite the number of sacks, Stroud applauded his line for its work and noted that it’s been difficult for the linemen because of all the injuries.
“I definitely appreciate those guys because they’re fighting,” he said. “They’re not giving up. It’s easy to put your head down in this league ... but those guys are constantly looking me in the eye and saying: ‘I’ve got you,’ and I appreciate that. I love those boys and I’m going to keep fighting for them because they’re fighting for me.”
The Texans trailed by 18 at halftime Sunday, but they rallied in the second half. They closed to 31-20 on a 23-yard touchdown reception by rookie Tank Dell with about 10 minutes to go. It was the first career touchdown for the third-round pick from the University of Houston.
Houston got a stop after that but wouldn’t get any closer after missing a long field goal on the next possession.
Ryans raved about the grit Stroud has shown under difficult conditions.
“C.J. is a competitor, and he shows that,” Ryans said. “He continues to fight no matter what odds are stacked against him, no matter who’s in front of him. It doesn’t matter. He has a winning mindset, and we need everybody around him to continue to have that winning mindset and play winning football and that’s when things will get better for us.”
After the team managed just three field goals in its opener last weekend, Stroud threw his first career touchdown pass when he connected with Nico Collins for a 12-yard score that cut the lead to 14-7 with about three minutes left in the first quarter. Collins finished with seven receptions for a career-high 146 yards.
“I’m not happy right now because we lost but I definitely think we’ve done a lot of good things on the offensive side of the ball and the defensive side of the ball as well,” Stroud said. “Once we play together as a team, man watch out. I think this team is ready to win and we’ve just got to put it together.”
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Kristie Rieken, The Associated Press