HOUSTON — Derek Stingley Jr. would not say if he felt this was the best game of his career. But the second-year cornerback could not deny his impact during the Houston Texans' 21-16 victory over the Arizona Cardinals Sunday afternoon.
"It's a step in the right direction," Stingley said. "I still have a lot to clean up. But once I get that taken care of, I'll be good."
Stingley played a vital role in helping the Texans extend their winning streak to three inside NRG Stadium. He finished the game with six tackles and a pair of pass deflections. But his most significant play came with 11:20 left in the second quarter.
Cardinals' quarterback Kyler Murray attempted a deep-ball pass to wide receiver Marquise Brown on 1st-and-10, but Stingley came away with the interception. The pick marked the second of his career and the first for the 2023 season — what many had predicted to be a breakout year before a hamstring injury sidelined him for six games.
He sustained the injury during the last play of practice at the Houston Methodist Training Center on Sept. 20. Stingley revealed that the damage could have been worse.
While going through rehab, Stingley spent time talking to his veteran teammates. He received advice on how to deal with injuries and the decision that comes when returning to the field.
"It feels good," Stingley said. "Everyone was coming up to me saying how proud they were of me. All of my teammates, they all knew what I had to do to come back. It just felt good. It's a good feeling for sure...It was a difficult injury. But I came back, and it is all good now."
The injury marked the second hamstring issue Stingley sustained in his short time as a member of the Texans. He missed the final eight games of last season due to the same injury in 2022. But similar to his rookie year, Stingley proved to be a productive player when healthy.
He was having a solid start to his sophomore season. At the time of the injury, Stingley had given up 37 yards on four catches while adding eight tackles. According to Pro Football Focus, Stingley had a pass coverage grade of 64.0.
However, he hasn't missed a beat since he returned to the Texans' lineup ahead of their Week 10 victory against the Cincinnati Bengals.
“Stingley came up big-time for us on the interception," coach DeMeco Ryans said. "It was cool to see him make a big play for us after all he’s gone 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, and for him, really grinding while no one's watching to show that he was ready to step up and compete. When his opportunity was there, he stepped up and made the play. So, happy for Stingley to be making a game-changing play for us, being a factor in the game."
Stingley's play against the Cardinals helped the Texans improve their record to 6-4, setting up a crucial match against the Jacksonville Jaguars with postseason implications at state on Nov. 26.
He understands the significance of Week 12. A victory against the Jaguars would improve Houston's chances of making the playoffs, but the Texans would also take the No. 1 spot in the AFC South.
But Stingley isn't looking too far ahead. His top objective, whether against the Jaguars or any other opponent, is to stay healthy while remaining productive.
"It means a lot," Stingley said. "To be able to help the team do something. I was out there the whole time. I am just getting used to everything again."