After a 34-6 victory over the Houston Texans, the Pittsburgh Steelers have clinched a first-round bye week for the playoffs.
It’s quite the present for Steelers nation on Christmas Day.
Instead of preparing for a WildCard weekend game, the Steelers can focus on rehabilitating injured players (like Antonio Brown).
“It’s nice for all of the guys that are banged up, AB especially,” said quarterback Ben Roethlisberger. “And all of us. All of us having little nicks, bumps and bruises. To get that time really helps.”
“Quite simply, it is a free pass to round two in the playoffs,” said head coach Mike Tomlin. “You’ll take passes to rounds in the playoffs. You step into a stadium and you have an opportunity to win, likewise you step into a stadium and you have an opportunity to lose. First-round byes are just that – you get a pass to the second round.”
The victory in Houston was a breeze for the Steelers.
Roethlisberger finished the day with 20/29 completed passes for 226 yards. He found Justin Hunter for a 5-yard touchdown in the first quarter and JuJu Smith-Schuster for a 18-yard touchdown in the fourth quarter.
After the Smith-Schuster touchdown, Tomlin decided to rest Roethlisberger, along with Le’Veon Bell, Maurkice Pouncey and Alejandro Villanueva.
On the ground, Bell rushed the ball 14 times fro 69 yards, scoring one touchdown.
Former New England Patriots running back Steven Ridley took nine touches, rushing for 28 yards.
However, it was Roosevelt Nix, the fullback, who scored the second rushing touchdown. Nix rushed the ball for a single yard for his touchdown.
Kicker Chris Boswell was perfect, converting two field goals and all four extra point attempts.
On defense, Mike Hilton was the star of the show.
Hilton led the defense with six tackles and three sacks against Texans quarterback T.J. Yates. Hilton also had a forced fumble.
Also having a busy day was Joe Haden. The cornerback made his return to the Steelers defense to face DeAndre Hopkins.
Hopkins did get past Haden in the end zone once, for an acrobatic 3-yard pass from Yates.
“He was able to tap both feet in,” Haden said. “It was just an amazing catch.”
For the Texans offense, Yates had a forgettable day, only completing 7/16 attempts for 83 yards. He threw one touchdown pass to Hopkins and an interception in the end zone to cornerback Artie Burns.
“It’s extremely frustrating … the pass game was pretty terrible,” Yates said. “We’ve just got to figure it out. We’ve got one week left. Just got to go out there and try to find a way to get a win.”
Yates had the leave the game for a period of time in the third quarter for concussion protocol. Entering the game was fourth-string quarterback Taylor Heinicke.
Yates returned to the game in the fourth quarter.
Meanwhile, the Steelers switched out Roethlisberger for Landry Jones to close out the game.
“Just glad we could bring another present to Steelers Nation today,” Roethlisberger said.
The Steelers will return to Heinz Field to face the Cleveland Browns at 1 p.m. Sunday.
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