The Pittsburgh Steelers soundly defeated the Houston Texans on Sunday, 34-6.
They clinched a first-round bye for the first time since 2010 and made the Texans look like a 4-11 team who was playing with their third — and for a period of time — fourth string quarterback.
The Steelers got key cornerback Joe Haden back into their lineup for the first time since breaking his fibula about a month ago. But Haden wasn’t even the main cornerback story on Monday night.
That honor belonged to slot corner Mike Hilton.
Hilton ripped past the Texans defensive line and recorded three sacks in the game, becoming the first cornerback in NFL history to accomplish the feat since sacks became official in 1982. He also forced a fumble.
Of course, anyone who has a game of such magnitude will be recognized the following day. But it goes a bit deeper than that.
Hilton is 5’9″ and obviously a bit small for a cornerback but he doesn’t let that hinder him. He signed with the Jacksonville Jaguars as an undrafted free agent last season but was cut as a part of the Jaguars final roster cuts.
After a week long practice squad stint with the New England Patriots, Hilton was signed to the Steelers practice squad in mid-December.
He ended the season there and then became the Steelers starting slot corner after he beat out veteran William Gay and his former college teammate Senquez Golson.
The story is great but his contributions to the team have been just as big.
Hilton has recorded 59 tackles, four sacks, one forced fumble and two interceptions. Those don’t scream elite corner by any means, but if you need a solid inside corner to complement the tandem of Haden and second-year guy Artie Burns, Hilton is easily that guy.
The Steelers may have found lightning in a bottle with Hilton.
Considering they’ll be without Ryan Shazier for the playoff run — and potentially forever — they need a lightning rod like Hilton.
He won’t be taking away anyone like Rob Gronkowski anytime soon, but he can provide a spark like he did on Sunday.