In the NFL's final game of the 2023 preseason, the Houston Texans' 17-13 victory over the New Orleans Saints was center stage in a nationally-televised game at the Superdome. C.J. Stroud threw his first touchdown pass and earned the role as the Texans Week 1 starter.
"I thought he did a really good job tonight," Head Coach DeMeco Ryans said. "Continued to progress, had a good week last week versus Miami and to come back out this week, the ball placement again was very nice but he can't do that without the offensive line up front. I thought the offensive line, they deserve the credit. He had the time to make those throws. So credit to the offensive line. They did a really good job of protecting him. That's what we want up front and it all starts there. So happy with what those guys did tonight."
Stroud and the offensive starters played two series until Davis Mills entered the game late in the first quarter and played into early in the third quarter. With Derek Carr and most Saints starters out for the game, Jameis Winston started the game at quarterback for New Orleans.
Stroud completed 2-of-4 passes for 16 yards, one touchdown, no interceptions and a 100.0 passer rating. The rookie quarterback threw the first touchdown pass of the preseason to WR Nico Collins. Mills completed 6-of-11 passes for 53 yards and led a field-goal scoring drive. E.J. Perry played all but the first series of the second half and finished 7-of-12 for 58 yards. RB Mike Boone rushed for a team-high seven carries for 51 yards (7.3 average) and one touchdown while Dameon Pierce rushed for 30 yards on five carries, including one for a 13-yard gain.
"It was good to see Dameon run that that way, that's his style," Ryans said. "We love the angry style and that's what we want to continue to see from him. And also Mike Boone did a really nice job today as well, running the ball, finishing runs. He ran very physical mindset and I love the way both of those guys ran tonight."
After a three-and-out on his opening possession, Stroud found success on the second drive, orchestrating a six-play, 43-yard scoring drive before exiting the game. Tank Dell's 27-yard punt return gave Houston possession at the New Orleans 43-yard line to start the drive. Stroud connected with TE Dalton Schultz on a 13-yard pass, followed by back-to-back runs by Dameon Pierce to get the Texans to first-and-goal. On the next play, Stroud threw a three-yard touchdown pass to Nico Collins to give the Texans a 7-0 lead with 7:17 left in the first quarter.
Winston's pass to WR Shaquan Davis on third-and-10 extended the Saints next drive. TE Jimmy Graham made two big plays, first catching a deep 25-yard throw to give New Orleans the ball at the 11-yard line. Three plays later, Winston found Graham in the endzone on a three-yard touchdown pass. The Saints and Texans were tied 7-7 with 14:20 left in the second quarter.
"I thought Jimmy Graham made a really nice play," Ryans said. "Christian (Harris) was in great position. Jimmy made a nice play. It happens in the league, but I love Christian. He was in his proper leverage. He was exactly where he supposed to be. He was tight in coverage at the end of the day, offense, they make plays too. And Jimmy Graham's been making plays for a long time. So that was a good play by Jimmy. Credit to him."
Rookie Jake Haener took over at quarterback for the Saints on their next possession. After a three-and-out on his first series, Haener's next drive ended in a turnover on downs. On fourth-and-1, Desmond King sacked Haener for a loss of three yards. Houston's offense took over at the New Orleans 47-yard line. Mills started the drive with a 16-yard pass to Hutchinson. On third-and-6, Devin Singletary caught a short pass to for seven yards to get Houston to first-and-goal territory. Ka'imi Fairbairn's 28-yard field gave the Texans a 10-7 lead with 1:49 left in the first half.
On the Saints first possession of the second half, Haener scrambled for a huge 26-yard gain on third-and-6. Four plays later, the Saints tied the game 10-10 with a 38-yard field goal with 6:25 left in the third quarter.
Perry took over at quarterback for the rest of the second half for Houston, leading a touchdown drive on his first series. Perry completed passes to Adam Humphries and Boone, who added a 21-yard run before scoring on an 11-yard carry to cap off a nine-play, 74-yard scoring drive. The Texans regained their lead, up 17-10 with 2:21 left in the third quarter.
Haener completed a 31-yard pass to TE Lucas Krull but was sacked on the following play by Texans DT Khalil Davis. The Saints would settle for a 50-yard field goal to end the drive. New Orleans trailed 17-13 with 9:03 left in the fourth quarter.
DL Adedayo Odeleye had a tackle for a loss of five yards to start the Saints next offensive series. On fourth-and-15, the Saints opted to kick a 60-yard field goal, but rookie Blake Grupe's kick was no good and the Texans took over at their own 42-yard line.
At the two-minute warning, Haener's deep pass to Krull was intercepted by Texans DB Grayland Arnold in the endzone, the first turnover of the game.
The Saints final possession of the game ended in another interception. CB Cameron Dantzler, who signed with Houston on Aug. 22, picked off Haener on his final pass of the game.
"It was fun to see them make plays, especially Dantzler there at the end to finish with the ball," Ryans said. "That was an exciting play and happy to see him make that play at that time."
The Texans wrapped up their preseason with a 2-1 record, handing the Saints their first loss. Houston will kick off the 2023 regular season on Sept. 10 at Baltimore against the Ravens.