HOUSTON — With a first-round playoff bye dangling as a late-afternoon Christmas present, the Steelers ventured into NRG Stadium and took care of business Monday.
They made it look easy with a 34-6 win over the Houston Texans, an anomaly for the second half of the season.
For once, there was no last-minute drama. No game-winning field goal. No controversial replay decision or head-scratching play calling in the waning seconds.
And, most importantly, no hangover from the deflating loss to the New England Patriots that snapped an eight-game winning streak.
“I was a little worried after last week,” guard David DeCastro said. “It was a little emotionally taxing on everybody. The practice week was kind of tough, and there was a little lull in the energy. But give credit to the guys for being professional and coming out here and getting the win, getting the job done.”
For just the second time in the second half of the season, the Steelers won decisively, taking a lead on their first series and increasing it throughout with contributions from the unlikeliest of playmakers. Fullback Roosevelt Nix and seldom-used wide receiver Justin Hunter chipped in with touchdowns as the offense didn’t skip a beat in the Steelers’ first game without injured All-Pro wide receiver Antonio Brown.
“It’s really the sign of a world championship-caliber group,” coach Mike Tomlin said. “You’ve got to have guys that are capable of delivering.”

The win gave the Steelers a 12-3 record, although it didn’t exactly come in hostile territory. Thousands of Terrible Towel-waving fans attended the game and a chant of “Here we go, Steelers” broke out after Le’Veon Bell’s 10-yard touchdown run gave the Steelers a 27-0 lead with 1 minutes, 48 seconds remaining in the third quarter.
The win also meant for the first time since 2010 — the last time they played in the Super Bowl — the Steelers’ playoff trek will avoid a game on the opening weekend.
“It’s something we definitely look forward to,” said Bell, who rushed for 69 yards and had 97 yards from scrimmage. “It’s a goal we had at the beginning of the season. It always feels good when you accomplish a goal, but obviously, we’ve got more goals left.”
The season finale Sunday against 0-15 Cleveland isn’t meaningless. The Steelers still have an outside chance of securing home-field advantage throughout the AFC playoffs, although they would need the New England Patriots, also 12-3, to lose at home to the 5-10 New York Jets.
The Texans (4-11) lost for the fifth game in a row. They trailed 20-0 at halftime and were down 27-0 in the fourth quarter when DeAndre Hopkins caught a juggling 3-yard touchdown pass to ruin the Steelers’ shutout bid.
The Steelers defense overwhelmed Texans quarterbacks T.J. Yates and Taylor Heinicke, collecting seven sacks.
Cornerback Mike Hilton had three, becoming the third defensive back in franchise history with that many in a game. Cam Heyward, snubbed for Pro Bowl consideration last week, had two sacks, increasing his team-leading total to 12. He also forced a fumble. Sean Spence and Stephon Tuitt recorded the other sacks, and Artie Burns had a timely interception.
With Brown back in Pittsburgh healing a calf contusion, Ben Roethlisberger completed 20 of 29 passes for 226 yards and two touchdowns, connecting with seven receivers.
Nobody had more receiving yards than JuJu Smith-Schuster’s 75. Martavis Bryant caught three passes for 60 yards and tight end Vance McDonald had four catches — all in the first half — for 52 yards.
“It was fun to spread the ball around to everyone,” Roethlisberger said. “I’m proud of the way everyone stepped up. … You can’t fill (Brown’s) shoes. I told them don’t try to fill them, just be the best you can be.”
Hunter, getting a gameday roster spot because of Brown’s absence, caught a 5-yard touchdown pass in the first quarter to provide a 10-0 lead.
“We’ve got a lot of good guys out there,” Hunter said, “a lot of guys who can make plays, and it showed on the field today.”
Nix scored on a 1-yard run on his first NFL carry for a 17-0 lead in the second quarter. The touchdown came on the series after Burns intercepted Yates in the end zone on fourth down, preventing the Texans from cutting the deficit to 10-7.
“If we’re going to be great, we’ve got to be stingy,” Tomlin said, “even when we give up yards.”
The Steelers allowed 176 yards rushing but held the Texans to 3 of 12 on third down. Hopkins, considered the second-best receiver in the NFL to Brown, was held without a catch in the first half and had just one reception entering the fourth. He finished with four catches for 65 yards.
The way the Steelers rebounded from the loss to the Patriots didn’t surprise center Maurkice Pouncey.
“We’re a mature team,” he said. “The coaching staff does a good job of keeping us focused on football. You can tell. This team wants to win. We’ve got a great group of guys.”
Joe Rutter is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at jrutter@tribweb.com or via Twitter @tribjoerutter.