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Top highlights from the Steelers’ Christmas Day win against the Texans

Pittsburgh locked in a first-round bye in the AFC.

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NFL: Pittsburgh Steelers at Houston Texans Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

The Pittsburgh Steelers clinched a first-round bye in the AFC playoffs by beating the Houston Texans on Saturday in Houston, 34-6. Pittsburgh sacked Texan quarterbacks seven times and had 330 yards offense to the Texans’ 227.

Below, a quarter-by-quarter listing of highlights:

Fourth quarter

Steelers 34, Texans 6, 2:46: The Steelers defense has seven sacks. Houston’s offense has eight completed passes.

Steelers 34, Texans 6, 6:58: Houston punted again, and the Steelers are set to lift Ben Roethlisberger for backup quarterback Landry Jones. That’s just about that.

Steelers 34, Texans 6, 9:26: Pittsburgh answered Houston’s first touchdown by scoring one of its own. Ben Roethlisberger got JuJu Smith-Schuster over the middle for a wide-open 17-yard score, and the PAT gave the Steelers their largest lead yet: 28 points.

Steelers 27, Texans 6, 12:30: The Texans’ DeAndre Hopkins just made one of the best touchdown catches of the year, which stood up upon review.

Just astonishing hand-eye coordination by Hopkins, who was blanketed by Joe Haden but still managed to track the ball and control it before falling out of bounds.

Haden blocked the Houston extra-point attempt, but he was called offside. The Texans went for two after that and came up short, so Haden succeeded anyway. Sort of.

Third quarter

Steelers 27, Texans 0, 0:00: The Texans have a chance to score at the start of the fourth, but it won’t matter. The Steelers should consider getting some of their offensive stars out of this game at the next opportunity.

Steelers 27, Texans 0, 1:48: Le’Veon Bell scored on a 10-yard run up the middle for Pittsburgh. The Steelers will clinch an AFC first-round bye, along with the Patriots. The Steelers celebrated with a fake snow ball fight, which is outstanding:

Points for creativity, and props to JuJu Smith-Schuster for his accuracy in throwing these invisible snowballs at his teammates with pinpoint accuracy.

Steelers 20, Texans 0, 2:50: Jadeveon Clowney sacked Ben Roethlisberger on a third down, but got flagged for facemasking him in the process. The Steelers would’ve been out of field goal range, but instead they’re in the red zone. That kind of day for Houston.

Steelers 20, Texans 0, 5:43. Houston went three-and-out after a bad drop on third down by Will Fuller. Pittsburgh’s Eli Rogers returned the ensuing punt 27 yards, to the Houston 42, with an impressive dart through the Texans’ coverage team.

The Steelers’ longest punt runback of the year had been 15 yards, also by Rogers.

Steelers 20, Texans 0, 7:23: T.J. Yates is back at QB for Houston. The team said he cleared the NFL’s concussion protocol after a hit at the end of the first half.

Steelers 20, Texans 0, 9:02: Houston moved the ball a bit on its first drive of the second half, but the threat ended when Steelers nickelback Mike Hilton sacked Taylor Heinecke. Hilton has three sacks today, bringing his season total to four.

Also:

Henicke himself was just walked to the locker room with an apparent injury.

Steelers 20, Texans 0, 14:02: Heinecke is playing quarterback for the Texans. NBC reported T.J. Yates, who started the game, was being evaluated for a concussion. Yates was injured on a sack by the Steelers’ Mike Hilton at the end of the first half.

Halftime

Steelers 20, Texans 0

It’s not surprising, but the Steelers turned in a dominant 30 minutes. Houston quarterback T.J. Yates got sacked four times and had two turnovers. Houston has negative-7 passing yards with sacks factored in. The Steelers “only” out-gained Houston 204 yards to 108, which is just about the best thing you can say for the Texans. The Steelers will clinch a Wild Card round bye after two more quarters.

Taylor Heinicke, a third-year QB from Old Dominion, replaced Yates for the Texans’ last few plays of the half. It remains to be seen who will finish the game.

Second quarter

Steelers 20, Texans 0, 0:53: Houston’s defense held the Steelers after they started at the Texans’ 29 thanks to a fumble recovery. Chris Boswell’s second field goal of the game was from 36 yards, after a 34-yarder opened the scoring.

Steelers 17, Texans 0, 2:00: Jadeveon Clowney’s back in the game for Houston. Great news.

Steelers 17, Texans 0, 2:31: Clowney just walked off with an apparent upper-body injury of some kind, maybe to his right hand.

Steelers 17, Texans 0, 2:45: T.J. Yates just fumbled the ball away to the Steelers at Houston’s 29-yard line. He’s 2-of-7 passing for 8 yards and now has committed two turnovers. The Steelers could turn this into a total blowout, quickly.

Steelers 17, Texans 0, 4:14: The rout might be on. The Steelers capped an 11-play, 80-yard drive by having fullback Roosevelt Nix dive into the end zone from a yard out, after a defensive pass interference call in the end zone. That sequence started with Artie Burns’ interception in the back of the Pittsburgh end zone, 110 yards away.

The Steelers had a few tough third-down conversions on that drive. The most impressive was a Martavis Bryant reach against three Texan defenders.

Bryant making plays is a great sign for the Steelers.

Steelers 10, Texans 0, 7:40: Pittsburgh’s marching again, with a chance to go up 17-0. A 22-yard Bell run has the Steelers across midfield. The Steelers have found a lot of success with outside sweeps to Bell over the last few weeks.

Steelers 10, Texans 0, 10:21: Houston had the ball at Pittsburgh’s 1-yard line and three chances to punch it in, but couldn’t do it. T.J. Yates had a throw to the back of the end zone intercepted on fourth down, with Burns getting his first pick of the year.

That was big for the Steelers, who got to take the ball out to their own 20 instead of starting with it at something around their own 1-foot line. Burns’ interception was upheld upon review.

Steelers 10, Texans 0, 13:56: The Steelers’ defense appeared to be badly confused before the first play of the quarter. After a bunch of pre-snap pointing and yelling, Houston’s Alfred Blue ran 48 yards up the gut.

First quarter

Steelers 10, Texans, 0:00. The first quarter appeared to be over a few minutes earlier than this, but officials put time back on the clock after a JuJu Smith-Schuster catch for Pittsburgh was overturned, which meant the clock wasn’t supposed to be running. The teams had to go back to the other end of the field for the Steelers’ third-down conversion attempt, which was unsuccessful. The Steelers will punt to start the second.

Steelers 10, Texans 0, 3:20: Texans guard David Quessenberry, who’s playing for the first time in his career after a long battle with cancer, has done some nice run-blocking work for Houston. Here’s a seal he put on Pittsburgh linebacker T.J. Watt:

But Houston’s offense is struggling and just punted again. The Steelers will start at their own 7 after an iffy decision by returner Eli Rogers to call for a fair catch.

Total net yardage through two series apiece: Pittsburgh 113, Houston 24.

Steelers 10, Texans 0, 6:59. Ben Roethlisberger scrambled on a third-and-5 and found Justin Hunter in the left corner of the end zone for a touchdown.

Hunter’s been inactive or not playing for most of the season, but he’s playing in this game because Antonio Brown’s hurt. The Steelers got big contributions on that drive from both Hunter and Martavis Bryant, whose 36-yard catch down the right sideline set up the score.

Steelers 3, Texans 0, 9:03: The Texans went three-and-out (and 5 yards backwards) on their first drive of the day. Pittsburgh nickel cornerback Mike Hilton sacked Yates on third down to bring up a punt, and the Steelers are getting the ball at their own 46.

Steelers 3, Texans 0, 10:40: The Steelers scooted 59 yards in eight plays after receiving the opening kickoff, and increasingly automatic kicker Chris Boswell punched in a 34-yard field goal. Roethlisberger was 3-of-4 for 46 yards on the drive.

Pregame

The NFL gets into the holiday spirit with a doubleheader on Christmas Day. The first matchup on Monday sees the Pittsburgh Steelers take on the Houston Texans, with Pittsburgh still hunting for a first-round bye in the playoffs. The game kicks off at 4:30 p.m. ET on NBC and NFL Network (live streams at NBC Sports, Amazon Prime, and FuboTV).

The Steelers sit at 11-3 after a heartbreaking and controversial loss to the New England Patriots last week. Jesse James seemingly had the game won with a touchdown catch in the final 30 seconds, but officials ruled it an incomplete pass after review. After that, the team couldn’t get back on the same page, and Ben Roethlisberger wound up throwing the game-ending interception. New England (11-3) now has the inside track to the No. 1 overall seed in the AFC.

On top of that, the Steelers lost all-world receiver Antonio Brown to a torn calf muscle, and his absence was obvious on their final drive. Brown will miss the rest of the regular season, but there’s hope he’ll be back in time for the playoffs. Having already wrapped up the AFC North, Pittsburgh can still clinch a first-round bye, which would give Brown an extra week to recover. Still, it’s a big setback for the offense after Brown had an MVP-caliber season. Martavis Bryant and JuJu Smith-Schuster will try to pick up the slack in the passing game.

However, not all hope is lost for the Steelers, who should be a major player in January. Le’Veon Bell is once again staking his claim as the best running back in football, leading the league in rushing yards (1,222) entering Week 16. Pittsburgh will need to rely on him more than ever as it waits for Brown to get healthy.

The good news is that the Steelers are facing a Texans team that ran out of ideas about five minutes after Deshaun Watson tore his ACL. Houston has been brutal since losing its stud rookie quarterback, going 1-6 in Watson’s absence while trotting out Tom Savage and T.J. Yates under center. At 4-10, this is the Texans’ first double-digit loss season since going 2-14 in 2013.

In most circumstances, head coach Bill O’Brien would be fighting for his job, but a massive wave of injuries might be enough to give him a mulligan. Besides Watson, Houston also lost J.J. Watt and Whitney Mercilus early in the year, crippling a front seven that’s normally one of the best in the league. Other complementary pieces like D’Onta Foreman, C.J. Fiedorowicz, and Bruce Ellington are done for the season. Savage himself was placed on injured reserve after a scary concussion took him out in Week 13.

In other words, the Steelers should take care of business here, though the Texans will certainly be trying to ruin their Christmas, even with the roster gutted by injuries.

JuJu Smith-Schuster is making his mark in Pittsburgh

Further reading

The miscommunication is obvious. Nobody knows what’s going on — the offensive line isn’t even blocking, while the receivers don’t run routes. (Perhaps they could’ve drawn some defenders away from Rogers if they went full speed.) It was a complete disaster that ended the only way it could.

Also, why are you calling a short slant at the goal line against the Patriots? Haven’t we seen this movie before?

  • If Behind the Steel Curtain could change one thing about Pittsburgh’s season, it would be all the inane drama:

While I would love to change the amount of drama this team has experienced both on and off the field, it has done a tremendous job proving the mental toughness of this football team. Kudos to Mike Tomlin and Co. for keeping the team focused on the task at hand, especially when the outside distractions would have ripped apart an average team.

Out of nine selections, only DeAndre Hopkins and maybe Ryan Griffin have made legitimate impact on the Texans’ franchise. Hopkins is now the highest paid receiver in the league, [Brennan] Williams is now a semi-professional wrestler, and [Chris] Jones helped another team to a Super Bowl. Typical draft for the Texans.

The Texans offensive line, and to a lesser degree the secondary, have been very poor throughout the season. In my eyes, those shortcomings are due to personnel, not coaching. With regard to special teams, there are only three certainties in life: death, taxes, and well below average special teams play at NRG Park.