Steelers cruise past Texans to earn playoff bye
The Pittsburgh Steelers will have an extra week to get Antonio Brown healthy for the playoffs after earning a first-round bye in the postseason with a 34-6 win over the Houston Texans on Monday.
It was a complete win for the Steelers (12-3), who got big games from quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, running back Le'Veon Bell, receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster, cornerback Mike Hilton and defensive end Cam Heyward.
Roethlisberger went 20 of 29 for 226 yards, completing five passes to Bell for 28 yards and six to Smith-Schuster for 75 yards and a touchdown. Bell also ran for 69 yards on 14 carries and scored on a 10-yard run in the third quarter.
Hilton and Heyward led a stellar defensive effort as the Texans (4-11) were held to 227 yards of offense. Heyward had four tackles, two for loss, and a pair of sacks. Hilton, a first-year player who had one career sack, forced a fumble and recorded a trio of sacks on Monday as the Steelers defense dropped Houston quarterbacks T.J. Yates and Taylor Heinicke a total of seven times.
STEELERS FINALLY DOMINATED INFERIOR OPPONENTS
After struggling with below-average teams this season, the Steelers dominated the Texans. The game was never in doubt as a five-yard touchdown pass from Roethlisberger to Justin Hunter, filling in for the injured Brown, was the first of two touchdowns thrown by Roethlisberger.
The Steelers lost to the Bears (5-10) this season and have three-point wins over the Browns (0-15), Colts (3-12), Packers (7-8) and Bengals (6-9). Seeing their team not play down to their opponent had to be a welcome Christmas gift for Steelers fans.
TEXANS DIDN'T PLAY TO THEIR STRENGTH
After pounding the ball on the ground to get it to the Steelers' one-yard line, O'Brien had Yates pass twice. The first pass went over the head of a wide-open Braxton Miller in the corner of the end zone. The second pass was intercepted by Steelers cornerback Artie Burns and Houston's eight-play, 80-yard drive resulted in zero points.
While the Texans should have run the ball, what made the play calls even worse was that neither pass was intended for Houston's best receiver -- DeAndre Hopkins. Houston's offense is not very good, but the Texans can still run the ball with efficiency. The NFL's 16th-ranked rush offense ran for 176 on Monday while Yates was just seven of 16 for 83 and turned the ball over twice.
When the Steelers had the ball at the one, they gave it to fullback Roosevelt Nix for a second-quarter touchdown.
Hopkins did not have a reception until the final play of the third quarter and finished with four catches for 65 yards. He did have one miraculous touchdown catch early in the fourth quarter.
STEELERS-PATRIOTS REMATCH IS INEVITABLE
The Steelers and Patriots each now have first-round byes as the top two seeds in the AFC. After their epic contest on December 17 won by the Patriots in controversial fashion, the rematch is almost a certainty. There does not appear to be another team in the AFC that could go into either Pittsburgh or Foxborough and win. That rematch, however, would take place at Gillette Stadium, where the Patriots have won nine straight playoff games.