Houston’s Yates struggles again in 34-6 loss to Steelers

Houston Texans quarterback T.J. Yates (2) is tackled by Pittsburgh Steelers defensive end Cameron Heyward (97) during the first half of an NFL football game Monday, Dec. 25, 2017, in Houston. (AP)

HOUSTON (AP) — Houston’s quarterback woes continued on Monday, and it led to yet another loss.

T.J. Yates had two turnovers in the first half and managed just 83 yards passing in a 34-6 loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers that extended the Texans’ skid to five games.

The losing streak is Houston’s longest since the team dropped the final 14 games of the 2013 season. The Texans have dropped eight of their last nine games and are 1-7 since losing star rookie quarterback Deshaun Watson to a season-ending knee injury.

“It’s brutal,” coach Bill O’Brien said of Houston’s slide. “It’s been a tough year.”

Yates completed 7 of 16, had an interception and lost one of his three fumbles. His performance came after he threw for 128 yards with an interception in a 45-7 loss to Jacksonville last week in his first start since 2015.

“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 made his second straight start since Tom Savage sustained a concussion. Yates left the game briefly Monday to be evaluated for a concussion, and his replacement, Taylor Heinicke, sustained a concussion on his only full possession.

The Texans have had a revolving door at quarterback over the past few years, and when Heinicke entered the game he became the 11th player to appear at the position for the team since 2013. They’ll likely have to sign yet another quarterback this week to backup Yates in the season finale at Indianapolis with Heinicke in the concussion protocol.

The Steelers hurried and harassed Yates all day, with Mike Hilton leading the way with three sacks and three quarterback hits, Cameron Heyward adding two and forcing a fumble. Hilton became the first cornerback with three sacks in a game since sacks became an official statistic in 1982.

Despite Houston’s struggles at quarterback, receiver DeAndre Hopkins has continued to excel. Hopkins, second in the NFL with 1,378 yards receiving, had 65 yards receiving and the team’s only touchdown Monday.

His acrobatic 3-yard touchdown reception in the fourth quarter was one of the few highlights of Houston’s tough day. Hopkins deflected the ball with his right hand, reeled it in with his left and got both feet down before falling out of bounds for his NFL-best and franchise-record 13th touchdown reception.

“It was incredible,” O’Brien said. “Great catch. He did an unbelievable job.”

Even cornerback Joe Haden, who was covering Hopkins on the play, lauded him for the catch.

“He was able to tap both feet in,” Haden said. “It was just an amazing catch.

Hopkins may have been the only one who wasn’t impressed with the grab.

“I’m mad I didn’t catch it the first time,” he said. “Like me, who I am, I was supposed to catch that one the first time with my right hand.”

The Texans also got a good game from backup running back Alfred Blue, who had 16 carries for 108 yards to give the team its first 100-yard rushing performance of the season.

The Texans trailed 10-0 when his 48-yard run on the first play of the second quarter got the Texans to the Pittsburgh 18-yard line. Houston got to the 1 on second down later in that drive, but couldn’t do anything on the next two plays before Yates was intercepted in the end zone.

Pittsburgh added a touchdown on a 1-yard run by Roosevelt Nix on the ensuing possession. Heyward sacked Yates three plays later and caused a fumble recovered by Bud Dupree to give the Steelers the ball right back.

“We probably should have run it almost every down,” O’Brien said. “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.”