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Ryan declares Ravens’ loss as not a moral victory, but Stroud and Texans remain proud of their season.

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BALTIMORE (AP) — The Houston Texans ended their season the same way they started it: with a loss in Baltimore.

When the sting of Saturday’s 34-10 playoff defeat wears off, the Texans will almost certainly appreciate how well they played between those setbacks against the Ravens.

After going 3-13-1 a year ago, the Texans rode a terrific season by rookie quarterback C.J. Stroud to go 10-7 and win the AFC South. Houston then manhandled Cleveland in the wild-card round before being ousted by the top-seeded Ravens.

Although the Texans fell short of reaching the AFC championship game for the first time, they took solace in being one of the last eight teams standing.

“Proud of our guys for their effort throughout this entire season, for getting to this moment,” rookie coach DeMeco Ryans said. “It’s not a moral victory, just being here. It’s not what we set out to do. But we accomplished a lot this year. I am looking forward to the future.”

The 22-year-old Stroud threw for a whopping 4,108 yards and 23 touchdowns compared to only five interceptions, a league-best touchdown-interception ratio.

The second overall pick in last year’s draft continued his success in his first postseason game, passing for 274 yards and three scores in a 45-17 blowout of the Browns.

But Stroud couldn’t figure out how to be effective against Baltimore’s swarming, aggressive, and hard-hitting defense. In his NFL debut on Sept. 10, he went 28 for 44 for 242 yards and no touchdowns in a 25-9 loss. On Saturday, the former Ohio State star went 19 for 33 for a meager 175 yards.

“That’s a great Ravens team there. They deserved to win,” Stroud said. “It’s tough getting embarrassed like that, but definitely our future is bright.”

Perhaps, but the Houston offense will have to play better than it did Saturday to take the next step. They managed only 10 first downs, garnered just 38 yards on the ground, and went scoreless in the second half.

The unit was further bogged down by several penalties for false starts, holding, and delay of game. All told, the Texans were flagged 11 times for 70 yards.

“There were too many penalties, too many missed assignments,” Stroud said.

But really, the Texans’ struggle to score could be attributed mainly to a Baltimore defense that allowed the fewest points in the league. The Ravens never sacked Stroud or forced a turnover, but they still forced the Texans to punt five times and turn it over on downs once.

“They’re a really good unit. They’ve been No. 1 throughout the season for a reason,” Ryans said. “They’re tough to handle up front. We could never quite get going offensively.”

Houston’s lone TD came on a 67-yard punt return by Steven Sims that helped the Texans reach halftime tied at 10. But the second half belonged to the Ravens and veteran quarterback Lamar Jackson, who ran for a score in the third quarter and tossed a 15-yard touchdown pass to Isaiah Likely make it 24-10 with 14:23 remaining.

That all but signified the end for the youthful Texans, who had rookies accumulate 2,536 snaps on offense this season — second most in the NFL behind the Carolina Panthers.

Despite all that inexperience, Houston proved it had the talent to make a strong postseason run.

“We had the team to do it,” Stroud said. “But we came up short.”

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AP NFL: https://apnews.com/hub/nfl

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