The Texans ran out of the locker room to start the third quarter of the AFC Divisional Round against the Ravens, all tied at 10-10, inside M&T Bank Stadium with it feeling like this was anyone's game.
Baltimore came out and went on to score 24-unanswered points against the Texans, scoring touchdowns on each of its first three drives of the second half, to roll to a 34-10 victory and bring an end to Houston's 2023 season.
"They came out, got a big return on the kickoff, we were on our heels there to start the second half," Texans coach DeMeco Ryans said. "Then Lamar [Jackson] pretty much just took it over. He made some exceptional plays. We couldn't get him down."
Texans guard Shaq Mason added: "They took advantage of all their opportunities. We didn't take advantage of our ops. It was 10-10 at halftime, we were in position to take advantage of our opportunities and those guys did."
Flashing back to Week 1 against the Ravens, whom the Texans opened the season against, that contest eerily similar as Baltimore led 7-6 at the half.
And in the second half of that game, just like in the second meeting on Saturday, the Ravens went on to score 18 points to win 25-9.
"It was reminiscent of the last time we played these guys," Texans defensive end Jonathan Greenard said. "We were really close at half and we just came out and didn't do much. Didn't do enough to take the momentum."
The Ravens were able to pass the ball, Jackson finishing with 152 yards through the air and a pair of touchdowns, but it was the Baltimore ground attack that ended up being the achilles heel for the Texans defense in the second half.
The Texans struggled to stop the run – giving up a total 229 yards for the night – led by Jackson with his 100 yards and two touchdowns.
"We didn't do a good job at stopping the run," Texans linebacker Blake Cashman said. "When I say that, I'm talking about Lamar. He was able to get out on our edges, scramble, extend drives, which led to points."
By utilizing the ability to run, the Ravens pieced together a pair of touchdown drives in the second half that drained 14 minutes and 13 seconds of game clock.
"When they were able to get a lead in the second half, they were able to go to their DNA and that's running the football, get big and they executed their style of football really well and we didn't," Cashman said.
Justice Hill ran for another 66 yards, Gus Edwards for another 40 and Dalvin Cook, who just came over from the Jets, chipped in 23 for the Ravens rush attack.
"It was really the run game is what hurt us," Ryans said. "It wasn't the passing game, it was the run game. There were some third downs where we could have gotten down and been tighter in coverage there but ultimately it was the run game.
"Even at the end there, just knowing they were going to run the ball, we still didn't get off blocks and make tackles to get off the field. That's what hurt us the most."
The Texans offense was held to just three points off a 50-yard field goal by Ka'imi Fairbairn in the first quarter. Houston never snapped the ball in the redzone once against the Ravens and was forced to punt five times and totaled just 213 yards of offense.
"Just offensively, can't keep going backwards like that," C.J. Stroud said. "Just too many penalties, too many missed assignments. On my part, I've got to run the offense better. Just have to get better there."
Stroud was held to 19 for 33 passing for 175 yards and rushed for another nine yards on three totes. The Texans rookie never found the endzone, just like in Week 1 against Baltimore.
Stroud finished his rookie campaign with 4,557 yards passing and 26 touchdowns in 17 games, which included two playoff showdowns and him missing a pair of games due to a concussion.
Houston's inability to run the ball was apparent from the get-go, being unable to get anything going against the Baltimore front.
The Texans finished with 38 yards rushing at the night's end.
"Hats off to them," Mason said about the Ravens ability to stymie the run. "They had a great gameplan. They definitely made more plays than we made. We definitely shot ourselves in the foot as well. We didn't execute to the best of our ability."
Devin Singletary finished as the Texans leading rusher with 22 yards on nine carries. Most of those yards came on a 16-yard run by Singletary in the third quarter.
"We couldn't get going," Ryans said. "Up front they made plays on us, they had a lot of stunts moving the line a lot. Playing on our side of the line of scrimmage and we couldn't get going."
Along with the struggles to run the ball, the Texans found themselves in longer than comfortable distances-to-go to obtain a first down, thanks to penalties.
Houston finished with 11 penalties, which cost them 70 yards in the game.
"The penalties really hurt us," Ryans said. "The pre-snap penalties was something that I thought we had made a step from. We reverted back to when we weren't winning games, we were playing slopping with penalties. You can't have penalties against a really good defense."
Stroud added about the penalties: "Those things hinder our drive, it's hard to operate on third-and-long every time."
The Houston Texans now head into the offseason to begin preparations for the 2024 season.