Stroud’s connection with Dell led to late-game heroics for Texans


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HOUSTON — The Houston Texans came into Week 9 in a slump.

They were averaging 196 passing yards and 17 points in the past three games, and Houston (4-4) was 1-2 in that span. But wide receiver Tank Dell had a feeling.

He was sure that his quarterback, fellow rookie C.J. Stroud, would get back on track against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, and he was right.

Stroud not only threw for the most yards for a rookie (470) in a single game, he also had five touchdowns and orchestrated a game-winning drive in the 39-37 win.

Dell was on the receiving end of Stroud’s final pass with six seconds left and finished with six catches for 114 yards and two touchdowns.

“I had a stormy route, so a post in the end zone,” Dell said. “C.J. delivered a great ball, man.”

Dell has 454 receiving yards and four touchdowns on the season, and he is averaging 16.2 yards per reception, tied for eighth-best.

The Texans drafted Stroud in the first round and Dell in the third to help bolster a floundering pass game that ranked 25th (196.7) last season and 28th (194.4) the year before, and first-year coach DeMeco Ryans has watched his rookies grow together as Houston is averaging 264.1 yards per game (fourth).

“That connection and that bond that I think Tank and C.J. have, it’s real,” Ryans said. “You see it off the field, on the field, they have a true bond, and it’s fun to watch those guys work together.”

Dell is the second rookie in Texans history to record at least 100 receiving yards and two receiving touchdowns in a game since Andre Johnson in 2003, it was his second 100-plus receiving yards performance, as he had 145 yards against the Jacksonville Jaguars in Week 3.

“Those plays [Tank] made at [the University of Houston], it’s the same plays he’s making here for us,” Ryans said. “He was exciting to watch as a college prospect. It’s the same standing back watching on the sideline. It’s always impressive. He’s an explosive playmaker. He shows up every Sunday.”

Dell also had a key block in the third quarter with the Texans trailing 20-10 on Sunday to help spring receiver Noah Brown, who had a career high 153 receiving yards, for a 75-yard score.

“Cut on the tape. I don’t think Tank even knows he’s that size,” Brown said. “He’s willing to go in there and do whatever he has to do, and I respect him for that. I appreciate that, and that’s why he’s special. He’ll go across the middle and make a catch, and he’ll throw a block.”

Stroud receives the bulk of headlines for historic rookie production, but he knows part of his success is because of his receivers, so he’s more than willing to shed light on his guys.

“Tank’s block shows you the love that we have for each other and the love for the next guy to make the play,” Stroud said. “[Dell’s] not being the biggest guy, but he’s going to go shoot his gun and try to get a block.”

The Texans go on the road Sunday (1 p.m. ET, CBS) to take on the Cincinnati Bengals as they try to get over the .500 mark for the first time since going 1-0 after Week 1 of 2021.

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