Win and In.
That was the headline going into the Texans first primetime game of the year as they traveled to Indianapolis for a Week 18 showdown with the Colts with a playoff berth on the line.
With all the hype. The game in the primetime slot on ESPN – the Texans stars showed up and showed out, especially C.J. Stroud and Nico Collins.
"C.J. and Nico, they stole the show," Texans coach DeMeco Ryans said with a smile following a "gritty" 23-19 victory at Lucas Oil Stadium. "It was an awesome job. Two of our best playmakers. Nico, we needed him most today, and he showed up bigtime for us and made a ton of big plays.
"He's the reason we won this game."
Collins finished the night with nine catches, on nine targets, for a career-high 195 yards and a touchdown. It is the fifth time that Collins has surpassed the 100-yard receiving mark in a game.
"I told him our first time ever working out together, I said bro you're a superstar," C.J. Stroud said of Collins.
All of those performances have come in 2023. His previous high was 191 yards, which came in Week 13 against the Broncos. Collins also has performances of 104, 146 and 168 yards this year.
"When he's out there, he's a problem," Ryans said. "He's a tough out for a lot of teams. So, happy that he's on our side."
He now has 1,297 receiving yards this season, more than his first two NFL seasons combined. Collins is the third receiver in Texans franchise history to surpass the 1,200-yard mark, joining Andre Johnson and DeAndre Hopkins.
Stroud and Collins made their splash to the National TV audience in the first nine seconds the Texans offense had the ball.
The duo connected on a 75-yard pitch-and-catch between Stroud and Collins, which the third-year receiver out of Michigan caught it in stride and took it to the house for his first of many big plays of the game.
"Awesome throw, awesome catch," Ryans said. "It was something we had been working. When Bobby [Slowik] called it, I was like oh here it is. Just credit to Nico and C.J. for great ball placement and putting that ball exactly where it needed to be. And Nico going up and making that catch. I had been telling Nico he had been catching a lot of deep ones but he's been stumbling and falling and not getting in the endzone, but this time stayed up and got in the endzone.
"Biggest play of the year for him."
Collins added: "Defense gave us the look we wanted. [Stroud] trusted me and I trusted him that the ball was going to be there and that's what we did. He told me to just run and that's what I did. Got it and made a play for the squad."
Watching the play happen from the sidelines was the entire defensive unit, including Will Anderson Jr., who got to watch the one-play touchdown drive.
"Man it was lit," he said about the sideline reaction. "Because you see that all the time. That's not new. Like in practice he makes crazy catches all the time, all season he's been making crazy catches like that. It was just the offense clicking, it's a beautiful thing to see man."
With the Texans down receivers Robert Woods and Noah Brown, more than ever Collins was going to be the featured wideout of the night.
Stroud's first four completions all went to Collins, which totaled up 100 yards by the end of the first quarter.
In the fourth quarter, on what would end up being the game-winning touchdown drive, Collins came up with massive catches for the Texans.
On a 2nd-and-14 from their own 46, Stroud was flushed out of the pocket and hit Collins for exactly the 14 yards needed to get to the marker. Collins made an impressive diving catch to pick the ball off the turf for the first down.
"I ran the route, it was one of those off-scheduled plays," Collins said. "Seen [Stroud] scrambling, threw it up and it had enough hang time for me to go get it. So, that's what I did. I seen the ball hanging, left it all out there and made a play for the team. It's what we needed to move the sticks."
Again on a 2nd-and-13, from the 30 of the Colts, again it was Collins who reeled in a 23-yard grab to get Houston down to the seven and in the redzone.
Coming up with those big-time plays on larger than comfortable down and distances, according to Ryans, is a credit to Stroud and Collins special connection.
"They were in sync all game," he said. "As I tell him all the time, he's a bigtime playmaker and he continues to show it week after week."
Stroud added: "I think our chemistry, it shows on the field. Our friendship shows on the field. I'm super proud of that dude. It's just the beginning for him. Just the beginning."
That special connection will now carry the Texans into the playoffs for the first time since 2019.
"I'm not satisfied yet," Collins said. "It's a lot left out there. We got this win and it is bigtime. But I'm not satisfied, the team's not satisfied. There's so much left out there for everybody."