CLEVELAND -- He came off the field looking alternately proud and stoic.
"Made the four years, the wait, worth it," Ryan Mallett said.
Someone finally trusted Mallett to lead a football team, and Mallett rewarded that trust. He helped topple a team that entered the day leading the AFC North. He threw two touchdown passes (one to a tight end!), he challenged the Browns' vaunted secondary deep, he exuded a contagious enthusiasm and confidence in the huddle.
We didn't know who Ryan Mallett the starting NFL quarterback was before the Houston Texans' 23-7 win over the Cleveland Browns on Sunday. There's more we'll learn as he continues to play. But on Sunday afternoon, he proved Texans coach Bill O'Brien's gamble was not much of a gamble at all.
"It was amazing," Texans left tackle Duane Brown said. "He's very knowledgeable with the offense. He has a great idea of what he wants to get accomplished and I think he did that."
Mallett threw 30 passes and completed 20 of them for 211 yards. His one interception must have still gnawed at him after the game because he brought it up unprompted, but it resulted from an outstanding play by Browns cornerback Joe Haden, not from a mental error on Mallett's part.
"His arm is amazing," receiver DeAndre Hopkins said. "The interception he threw across the field, across his body, was an amazing throw."
Undoubtedly, Mallett had help.
The Texans' running game was as fluid as it has ever been, even though running back Arian Foster was out with a groin injury. Alfred Blue started and rushed a franchise record 36 times. He picked up 156 yards, averaging a very respectable 4.3 yards per carry.
The offensive line didn't give up any sacks and played what O'Brien called its best game of the season.
"I got hit like once or twice," Mallett said, after an impressed exhale.
They had spent extra time during the Texans' bye week meeting, reviewing the offense, what they needed to improve and how they could improve it. Mallett's comprehension of O'Brien's system was apparent in those meetings.
"He knows everything," receiver Andre Johnson said.
Said Mallett: "Being in the system for those three years has helped me be at the point where those guys know that I know it, so we can go talk about it, and sometimes it’s without the coaches. Great teams, you gotta meet without coaches to be good. ... That’s just the extra work you have to put in."
And while he didn't like waiting so long for his turn, in hindsight Mallett said he believes that was helpful. For three years in New England he learned behind one of the best quarterbacks to have played the game in Tom Brady, with an organization singularly focused on the task immediately before them.
Mallett channeled that singular focus, and even some of his former coach's words, after the game.
"We're on to Cincinnati, if that sounds familiar," he said, borrowing the phrase Patriots coach Bill Belichick repeated throughout his news conference following a blowout loss to the Kansas City Chiefs.
Any questions about how big a win it was, or where it ranked for him personally, were met with that stoicism that alternated with pride. Mallett has been dreaming of this for a long time -- but he didn't dream of just one win, nor did he dream of just making one NFL start.