The Pittsburgh Steelers clinched a playoff bye as they rolled over the undermanned Texans 34-6 on Christmas Day before a partisan Steeler crowd at NRG Stadium.
After the Steelers’ Chris Boswell kicked a 34-yard field goal, quarterback Ben Roethlisberger threw a 12-yard touchdown pass to Justin Hunter to increase their lead to 10-0 at the end of the first quarter. In the second quarter, Roosevelt Nix scored on a 1-yard run, and Boswell connected on a 36-yard field goal to make the score 20-0 at halftime. In the first half, Roethlisberger completed 15 of 20 passes for 149-yards for a quarterback rating of 102.3.
Meanwhile, the Texans’ T.J. Yates completed 2 of 7 passes in the first half for a loss of 7 yards, and a quarterback rating of 0.0.
“I wasn’t very sharp to start the game off and that kind of stalled us. The running game was going great. I was off to begin with and playing against a team like that, you can’t get behind, and it didn’t get much better after that,” Yates said.
Yates was injured with 20 seconds to go in the half and was placed in the concussion protocol. Backup quarterback Taylor Heinicke, a 3-year veteran out of Old Dominion, replaced Yates for one play in the second quarter and eight plays in the third quarter before he was sacked and removed from the game to undergo concussion testing. By then, Yates had been approved to re-enter the game, and he came back to finish the game. Heinicke did not pass the concussion protocol and was ruled out for the remainder of the game. His status for next Sunday’s season-ending game was unknown.
“The referee thought that I got hit in the head and pulled me out of the game. I went off the field, passed the protocol in the tent, and it was at halftime, so I went into the training room and passed all the tests and came back out in the second half,” Yates said. “Yeah, I appreciate his (the referee’s) cautiousness. It’s a very sensitive subject right now. The fact that it took so long, the whole process took about 30 minutes for me to get back out there, that was a little frustrating for me, but I’d rather them be more cautious than not. But, at the same time, taking players off the field when they’re fine is frustrating to players. But, it’s kind of a double-edged sword. Eventually the process of the whole concussion protocol will get better and better. It’s just a very hot topic right now. He felt that I got hit in the head and that I needed to come out.”
The Texans lost four players to injuries during the game, about 9 percent of their active roster. Cornerback Kevin Johnson injured his knee, safety Corey Moore sprained his medial collateral ligament in his knee, running back Jordan Todman suffered a shoulder injury, and Heinicke was lost to a concussion.
DeAndre Hopkins provided Texans’ fans with their only highlight as he made a spectacular touchdown reception in the fourth quarter to give Houston its only points. Hopkins out-fought two Steelers to tap the ball to himself and grabbed it before he fell out of bounds.
“I work on my craft a lot. I try to perfect it. I’m a perfectionist. I’m just going out there making plays whenever my number is called. Hopefully I can give them more excitement and more catches in the future like that,” Hopkins said.
Alfred Blue rushed for 108 yards on 16 carries, and Lamar Miller added 55 yards on 10 carries as the Texans’ offense were able to run on occasion. They finished the game with 51 net passing yards.
“We probably should have run it almost every down. Probably should have, looking back on it. I don’t know how many times we ran it, but probably should have done it a lot more than we did” head coach Bill O’Brien said. “But, Blue did a good job. He ran hard. Since he’s been back healthy, he’s been running hard. I thought that the line did a good job.”
The Steelers seemed to have the home field advantage as more than half the fans wore Steeler black and gold and waved their terrible towels whenever the Steelers made a play, even though it was the Texans’ Fan Appreciation game.
“It’s not new to us, but we don’t take it for granted. We really appreciate the support of Steeler Nation, particularly when we travel. You just can’t say enough about it. I can’t tell you that I was surprised once I got in stadium, because I felt it on the drive to the stadium. It was great to see those Terrible Towels out in passenger seats and cars and so forth when you are driving to a stadium,” Steelers’ head coach Mike Tomlin said.
The Texans play at Indianapolis next Sunday in the final game of the season. The Texans are 4-11 and the Colts are 3-12. In their last meeting, the Colts beat the Texans at NRG Stadium 20-14.