HOUSTON – Derek Stingley Jr. was more than ready to run and win a race, and he flashed his rare recovery speedy in a single coverage matchup with Arizona Cardinals wide receiver Hollywood Brown.
When Brown ran a deep route and gained a step on the Texans cornerback initially, Stingley made up the lost ground and made an acrobatic leaping interception of Cardinals star quarterback Kyler Murray during the first half of a narrow 21-16 victory Sunday at NRG Stadium. Stingley also displayed his strength, tearing the football away from Brown, who was limited to two receptions for 18 yards on five targets, to secure his second career pick and his first of the season.
“As soon as the play started, his head was down and I knew I had to go,” Stingley said. “Once he looked back for the ball I saw where he was looking, turned my head and found the ball and caught it. I wouldn’t say wrestling match. I think I had it the whole time.”
For the former third overall pick of the draft, a physically gifted former LSU consensus All-American, it was a significant moment. Stingley severely injured his hamstring in practice in September while trying to intercept a pass, tearing the upper hamstring away from the hip tendon. For those that saw the injury, they felt like Stingley was lucky he wasn’t hurt more seriously during the final play of a Wednesday practice before a game against the Jacksonville Jaguars.
After ending last season on injured reserve with a hamstring injury and being placed on injured reserve and missing six games, Stingley is healthy again and playing outstanding football. He returned on a 44-snap count for 69 percent of the defensive playing time against the Cincinnati Bengals and displayed some signs of rust, but played on a full-time basis against the Cardinals.
“Stingley came up big-time for us on the interception,” Texans coach DeMeco Ryans said. “It was cool to see him make a big play for us after all he’s went through to work his way back to get on the field. He goes through a lot that a lot of people don’t see with the rehab process. For him, really grinding while no one is watching to show he was ready to step up and compete when his opportunity was there. He stepped up and made his play, so happy for Stingley to make a game-changing play for us and be a factor in that game.”
For Stingley, this was a moment that took a lot of patience to achieve.
He’s been waiting and biding his time patiently to make an impact. He recorded six tackles and two passes defensed Sunday as the Texans won their third game in a row and improved to 6-4 overall.
“It felt good for real out there the whole time, so getting back used to everything, it felt good,” Stingley said. “Everybody was coming up to me saying there were proud of because they all know what I had to do. It’s a good feeling.”
Stingley affirmed how tough it was to come back from a major soft-tissue injury.
“Hmm, hmm, just the type of injury it was, but came back, though,” he said. “It’s all good now.”
Yes, Stingley kept the football from the interception in his locker.
This is the second interception of his career. He picked off Jacksonville Jaguars quarterback Trevor Lawrence last season in the end zone in a win. Both times Stingley has intercepted a pass in his NFL career, the Texans have won the game.
“I would say it’s definitely a step in the right direction,” Stingley said.
The Texans contained Murray. He passed for 214 yards and one touchdown. An elusive dual-threat quarterback and a two-time Pro Bowl selection, the former top overall pick scrambled for 51 yards on seven runs.
“You really got to cover twice because once he starts running anything can happen,” Stingley said. “So, just make sure you stay on your man. We played good. We made all the stops we needed. There’s things we can get better at.”
Cardinals wide receiver Rondale Moore had an early 48-yard touchdown catch against the Texans’ Cover 3 scheme. Stingley was covering someone else, and safety Jalen Pitre couldn’t stay with Moore as he broke deep on a fly route for the score in the first quarter for an early 7-0 lead.
“I still got a lot to clean up,” he said. “Once I get that cleaned up, I’ll be good.”
The Texans allowed 20 first downs and 319 yards of total offense as the Cardinals went 3 for 10 on third downs.
On the Cardinals’ final drive, veteran corner Steven Nelson, who leads the Texans with three interceptions, batted away a fourth-down throw from Murray intended for Brown to ice the game.
“We played good and made all the stops we needed to, but, during the game, there’s always more that we can get better at,” Stingley said. “So, we’ll look at the film tomorrow and get better.”
Aaron Wilson is a Texans and NFL reporter for KPRC 2 and click2houston.com