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Texans will continue playoff chase without star rookie WR Tank Dell

HOUSTON (AP) — The Houston Texans escaped with a win over the Denver Broncos on Sunday.

But the victory came with a steep price as star rookie receiver Tank Dell sustained a broken fibula that ended his season.

Coach DeMeco Ryans said that Dell had surgery Monday and they expect him to be ready to return by the start of Houston’s offseason program.

The diminutive Dell was injured when he got rolled up on a touchdown run by Dameon Pierce in the first quarter of the 22-17 victory Sunday. With Dell out, Nico Collins led the offense, piling up a career-high 191 yards receiving with a fourth-quarter touchdown.

Now the Texans must find a way to make up for the loss of the Dell, who ranks second on the team with 709 yards receiving and who leads the Texans with a franchise rookie record seven touchdown receptions.

“Nobody replaces Tank, but everybody around him just has to step up and just do their part — be their best in whatever role, whatever area we ask them to,” Ryans said. “We just ask them to be their best. It takes everyone. When you lose a guy who brings that emotional lift to your team, it’s going to take everyone to dig a little deeper and pick it up and do a little bit better.”

Quarterback C.J. Stroud choked back tears when he spoke about Dell’s injury Sunday. The pair had become close friends, bonding from the moment both were drafted this April.

“I try to be positive about it, but it’s tough,” Stroud said. “I’m hurt. I can’t sugarcoat it.”

Stroud had another strong game Sunday, throwing for 274 yards with a touchdown and no interceptions. His performance came after he was the AFC Offensive Player of the Month and NFL Rookie of the Month for November after throwing for 1,466 yards with 10 touchdowns and four interceptions last month.

Despite his success, he’s still looking to do much more to help the Texans return to the playoffs for the first time since 2019.

“I’m blessed to be able to be playing at a high level, and I want to keep that going,” he said. “I really don’t think I’ve even touched my potential yet. I still have things I need to clean up every week.”

WHAT’S WORKING

Houston’s secondary had perhaps its best performance of the season Sunday. The group held Russell Wilson to just 44 yards passing in the first half, which was the fewest yards passing he’s had in a first half in his 12-year career.

In the second half, the Texans intercepted him a season-high three times. Derek Stingley Jr., the No. 3 pick in the 2022 draft, grabbed the first two picks to give him at least one interception in three straight games.

“To see Stingley show up again for the third consecutive week and getting two interceptions is big time,” Ryans said. “Just continue to see his growth and his playmaking ability show up. He’s an impact player for our defense, and it shows each and every week.”

Jimmie Ward sealed the victory when he intercepted Wilson in the end zone with 9 seconds left. It was Ward’s first game since injuring his hamstring Nov. 5.

WHAT NEEDS HELP

Houston had eight penalties for 81 yards Sunday. The Texans are tied for the eighth-most penalties in the NFL this season with 80 penalties which have cost them 684 yards.

STOCK UP

Texans rookie defensive end Will Anderson Jr., the third overall pick in the draft, had a great game Sunday. The former Alabama star had two sacks, four quarterback hits, deflected one of the balls that Stingley intercepted and deflected a punt.

“It was a good game, but there’s always something to get better at,” Anderson said. “And for me I love learning, I really love learning. And I get to learn from some of the best guys and some of the best coaches so … this is just a building block.”

STOCK DOWN

WR Noah Brown didn’t have a catch in his return after missing two games with a knee injury. This came after the six-year pro had the two best games of his career before his injury with 173 yards receiving against Cincinnati and 153 yards against Tampa Bay.

INJURIES

The Texans didn’t have any injuries Sunday aside from the one to Dell.

KEY NUMBER

0. The Texans held the Broncos to 0 for 11 on third downs Sunday. It was the third time in franchise history that Houston had kept a team a from converting any third downs in a game.

NEXT STEPS

The Texans travel to face the New York Jets Sunday, where they’ll need a win to remain in a good spot to compete for a playoff berth in the last few weeks of the season.

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AP NFL: https://apnews.com/hub/nfl

Kristie Rieken, The Associated Press