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By KRISTIE RIEKEN | AP Sports Writer
HOUSTON (AP) — Rookie C.J. Stroud became the youngest quarterback to win a playoff game after throwing for 274 yards and three touchdowns, and the Houston Texans returned two interceptions by Joe Flacco for scores in a 45-14 rout of the Cleveland Browns in a wild-card matchup Saturday.
Stroud, the second overall pick in the draft last April, is also the highest-drafted rookie QB to win in the postseason. He picked apart Cleveland’s vaunted defense, throwing touchdown passes of 15, 76 and 37 yards.
At 22 years and 102 days old, he passed Michael Vick, who was 22 years, 192 days old in 2002 when his Falcons beat the Packers.
Stroud threw for 236 yards and three touchdowns before halftime as the Texans built a 24-14 lead. The defense took over after that, with Steven Nelson and Christian Harris returning interceptions for touchdowns on consecutive drives in the third quarter to extend the lead to 38-14.
With the Texans up 45-14 with nine minutes to go, Stroud’s work was done, and he was replaced by Davis Mills.
Back in the playoffs for the first time since 2019, Stroud’s stellar play and the leadership of first-year coach DeMeco Ryans transformed the Texans (11-7) from NFL laughingstock to AFC South champions.
Flacco, who turns 39 in three days, came off the couch to go 4-1 as a starter to end the regular season and lead the Browns (11-7) to just their third playoff appearance since their 1999 expansion rebirth, but second in four seasons under coach Kevin Stefanski.
Playing in his 17th postseason game but first in nine years, Flacco couldn’t continue his magical run under the bright lights of the playoffs.