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Cancer survivor Quessenberry makes debut for Texans

December 26, 2017

Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger (7) throws a pass against the Houston Texans during the first half of an NFL football game Monday, Dec. 25, 2017, in Houston. (AP Photo/Eric Christian Smith)

HOUSTON (AP) — Cancer survivor David Quessenberry knew all week that he’d make his NFL debut on Monday for the Houston Texans against the Pittsburgh Steelers.

What he didn’t realize until before just before the game was that he’d not only play, but be one of his team’s captains.

“That surprised me,” he said. “That was really cool. I didn’t expect that. When (coach Bill O’Brien) told the team that, everyone was really excited for me, and I was, too.”

Quessenberry’s debut came on another tough day for the Texans as a 34-6 win by the Steelers gave them their fifth straight loss.

The guard was drafted by the Texans in the sixth round in 2013, but sustained a season-ending foot injury before appearing in a game. The following June he was diagnosed with non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma and spent three years fighting the disease before being declared cancer free and returning to practice in May. He was cut before the season, but signed to the practice squad the next day, where he remained until his promotion this week.

“What else can you say about that guy? That guy was in tough shape not too long ago, and for him to come back and play in an NFL game is an incredible thing if you ask me,” O’Brien said. “So, I thought it was appropriate to make him a captain.”

Quessenberry struggled to put into words how special Monday was for him.

“I don’t know if I could. It was everything I dreamed of when I was going through my treatments,” he said. “Getting out there and playing a full-speed game today was exactly how I had hoped it to be.”

His teammates raved about how far he’s come since being diagnosed with the disease, and were thrilled to see him realize his dream of playing in an NFL game.

“What he went through to come out and still be able to come and be a part of this team every day like nothing happened to him, everybody feeds off his energy, honestly,” DeAndre Hopkins said. “I don’t know if he knows it, but everybody in this locker room looks up to him.”

Some things to know about Pittsburgh’s win over the Texans:

STEPPING UP

The Steelers were encouraged that the offense performed so well in its first game without NFL leading receiver Antonio Brown, who sat out with a calf injury. Pittsburgh scored more than 30 points for the fourth time this season despite missing one of the league’s top players.

“I think when A.B. comes back he’s going to be that extra, added dimension that guys have to prepare for,” running back Le’Veon Bell said. “And I think having A.B. out of the lineup will give guys like Martavis (Bryant) and JuJu (Smith-Schuster) and Eli (Rogers) a little opportunity to go out there and get more experience learning different positions.”

ONE MORE QUARTERBACK?

Hopkins, who was drafted in 2013, has caught at least one touchdown pass from 10 quarterbacks. When Taylor Heinicke entered the game briefly on Monday when T.J. Yates was being evaluated for a concussion, he thought he might add a name to the list.

“I was hoping No. 8 stayed in so I could get a touchdown from him just to add up the amount of quarterbacks I’ve had (TD passes from),” Hopkins joked.

Despite Houston’s quarterback problems, Hopkins leads the NFL with a franchise-record 13 touchdown catches, and his 1,378 yards receiving are second in the NFL behind Brown.

GETTING A BREAK

Pittsburgh clinched a first-round bye with Monday’s win, and for many players it will be a much-needed break before the playoffs begin. Bell is among those really looking forward to a breather after leading the NFL with 321 carries this season.

“I think the greatest part of the season for real is that we had a bye early like Week 9,” he said. “So we played eight games and we had a bye and we’re going to play another eight games to get another bye. So it kind of worked out perfectly.”

SO MANY TARGETS

When Ben Roethlisberger connected with Justin Turner on a 5-yard touchdown pass in the first quarter he became the 10th player that he’d thrown a TD pass to this season. With Brown out on Monday, Roethlisberger completed passes to six players.

“It was fun spreading the ball around to everybody today,” he said. “I’m really proud of the way they stepped up.”

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