HOUSTON (AP) — C.J. Stroud didn’t let last week’s tough loss to the previously winless Panthers get to him.
Quite the opposite.
The rookie quarterback took lessons from that defeat that he’ll use Sunday when he leads the Houston Texans against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
“As the year goes on, I feel like it gets a little harder,” Stroud said. “But if it was easy, everybody would do it. And that’s just something I keep in mind. The trials and tribulations, the hard losses — whatever you want to name — it prepares you for things that come in the long run.”
Stroud looks to bounce back after throwing for a season-low 140 yards against Carolina after entering the game averaging more than 276 yards per game. Houston (3-4) scored just 13 points in the loss, its fewest points since a 25-9 loss to Baltimore in the opener.
“This is an accountability-based business,” Stroud said. “And I think everybody is looking in the mirror like, ‘How can we fix these issues and do things the right way?’ And we’re excited to get that done.”
The Texans will try to do that against a Buccaneers (3-4) team that has lost three in a row, capped by last week’s 24-18 loss at Buffalo. They’re likely to get nose tackle Vita Vea back after the defensive leader sat out last week with a groin injury.
He knows they’ll have their hands full with Stroud, who leads NFL rookies with 1,800 yards passing and has thrown just one interception.
“Most rookie quarterbacks ... you see them struggle in their first year,” Vea said. “You don’t see that in C.J. It definitely makes it harder on us. He’s been doing a good job this year. He’s probably one of the best out of all the rookie quarterbacks that are playing right now. It’ll definitely be a big challenge for us.”
The Bucs are averaging just 17.3 points per game and have been outscored 60-37 during their three-game skid, which includes home losses to Detroit and Atlanta, as well as last week’s defeat at Buffalo.
Quarterback Baker Mayfield, who’s with his fourth team in three seasons, concedes the offense feels an obligation to be more productive, especially with how well the defense has played in keeping the Bucs in most games.
“We’ve taken care of the ball for the most part, but I think about that — us doing our part. ... We’ve had good games (and) bad games on third downs, but we haven’t been great in the red zone consistently,” Mayfield said.
“For us, we take that accountability,” the quarterback added. “You have to look yourself in the mirror after each game and each practice, see how I can get better and improve and help this team out.”
ANOTHER NEW CENTER
Stroud will line up with a new center Sunday after Jarrett Patterson was placed on the injured reserve after hurting his ankle against the Panthers.
Patterson started Houston’s first seven games this season after the team lost two centers in training camp. Scott Quessenberry, who started 16 games at the position for the Texans last season, tore two knee ligaments in training camp to end his year.
Rookie second-round pick Juice Scruggs took over, but injured a hamstring in the preseason finale to thrust Patterson into the role.
On Sunday, Michael Deiter will move into the starting lineup after opening the season on the practice squad. Deiter joined the Texans this season after playing 57 games in four seasons with the Dolphins.
“He’s played a lot of ball, so Mike’s experience will help us,” Houston coach DeMeco Ryans said. “He’s been out there before, guys have played together, so we feel comfortable with Mike stepping in there for us.”
While the Buccaneers look for ways to slow Stroud, the Texans are focused on limiting the impact of receiver Mike Evans.
Evans, who grew up in nearby Galveston and starred at Texas A&M, has 86 career touchdown receptions and needs 68 yards receiving to become the fifth player in NFL history with at least 11,000 yards receiving and 85 touchdown receptions in his first 10 seasons.
“The challenging thing with their offense starts with Mike Evans, their most explosive player,” Ryans said. “Big-time plays. (We) have to make sure we have eyes on him at all times. He’s been a very productive player in this league for a long time.”
Tampa Bay coach Todd Bowles is impressed with what he has seen of Stroud, noting the rookie is an accurate passer, has a good grasp of the offense and has done a good job of protecting the football.
The Bucs defense is tied for third in the NFL with 14 takeaways and has allowed 18.3 points per game, tied for sixth-fewest in the league. It’s a veteran unit led by Vea and linebackers Lavonte David, Devin White and Shaquil Barrett,
“He is playing very smart football,” Bowles said of Stroud. “They don’t turn it over. He makes very good throws. He’s got a very good arm. When you don’t turn it over and you don’t give up big plays, you always give yourself a chance to win.”
AP Sports Writer Fred Goodall contributed to this report.
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Kristie Rieken, The Associated Press