Monday was ripe for a Pittsburgh Steelers letdown. They have often played down to their competition under Mike Tomlin. And star receiver Antonio Brown was out with a calf injury.
The Steelers’ 34-6 destruction of the Houston Texans was a great sign. The Steelers were focused throughout and blasted a bad team. They clinched a first-round bye and are still alive to pass the New England Patriots for home-field advantage throughout the AFC playoffs.
What might have been most impressive was the way the offense didn’t seem to miss Brown. Brown is a legitimate MVP contender, but Ben Roethlisberger still had a very nice game without him. He completed 20-of-29 passes for 226 yards and a pair of touchdowns before he got pulled with less than seven minutes left and the game in hand.
The Texans aren’t a very good team, and their defense has been bad since J.J. Watt and Whitney Mercilus went down with injuries. But it’s a good sign that so many other players stepped up for the Steelers without Brown in the lineup. Justin Hunter, who had fallen completely out of the offense, caught a touchdown. Le’Veon Bell was his typical great self with 97 total yards and a touchdown. When the Texans showed just a little bit of life, JuJu Smith-Schuster put the game away with a touchdown catch. It didn’t matter much anyway, because the Steelers defense was dominant. Other than a phenomenal touchdown catch by DeAndre Hopkins that nobody could have stopped, the Texans got very little going. Pittsburgh gave up too many rushing yards, which seems like it might be a problem without linebacker Ryan Shazier, but overall it was an impressive day.
The Steelers know they will get to rest on wild-card weekend. If they win next week and the Patriots somehow lose, the Steelers would be the No. 1 seed. And on Monday, in a complete win over the Texans, the Steelers again looked like a team that can win it all, especially if Brown comes back healthy.
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