PITTSBURGH -- The Pittsburgh Steelers exploded for 24 second-quarter points, including three touchdowns in just 1:13 of the clock, to secure a 30-23 win against the Houston Texans Monday night at Heinz Field.
The Steelers (4-3), who have maintained their trend with a win after the loss last week, play host to the Indianapolis Colts Sunday at 4:25 p.m. The Texans dropped to 3-4 for rookie NFL head coach Bill O'Brien.
Issues that plagued the Steelers throughout their 3-3 start were on display immediately against the Texans. The Steelers drove nine plays in about 3:30, only to punt from near midfield. During the possession, Ben Roethlisberger launched a deep pass to Martavis Bryant that the rookie wideout couldn't run under. Brad Wing was nearly perfect, dumping the ball inside the 10, and the Steelers downed it at the 6.
The Steelers' defense faced two third-down plays, including a third-and-six right off the bat that would have forced a Houston punt from its own end zone. But Ryan Fitzpatrick hit Damaris Johnson for 15 yards, with Troy Polamalu too deep to do anything about it. The sad part was that James Harrison and Jason Worilds each had a shot to sack Fitzpatrick, but couldn't corral him.
The Texans apparently softened the Steelers' defense, because Arian Foster had two 11-yard runs before bursting for a 33-yarder down to the 11-yard line. Polamalu appeared to be out of position and eventually caught him from behind. On the ensuing play, Fitzpatrick moved around in the pocket to allow rookie running back Alfred Blue to get open for a touchdown toss and a 7-0 Houston lead.
A Roethlisberger turnover led to three more points for the Texans when Whitney Mercilus, who replaced injured overall No. 1 pick Jadeveon Clowney at defensive end, strip-sacked Ben and J.J. Watt recovered. Then the Texans held the ball for nine plays and nearly four minutes, but advanced only 25 yards and had to settle for a 39-yard field goal by Randy Bullock.
The Texans also got a 38-yarder from Bullock a short time later, following a 10-play drive in 4:40. The key plays were a 23-yard toss from Fitzpatrick to DeAndre Hopkins that flipped field position. Cortez Allen had coverage, and I use that term loosely. The Texans also converted a fourth-and-one on Foster's 11-yard scamper to the 24. But they only gained a couple more yards and had to settle for the short field goal to take a 13-0 lead midway through the second quarter.
The Steelers were pinned inside their 20 once again on their ensuing possession, as Dri Archer's runbacks continue to underwhelm. After Watt sacked Roethlisberger for a nine-yard setback, it was second-and-19 from the 5. The Steelers would have punted from there, but Watt jumped offside to give them a third-and-10. Then, Le'Veon Bell's catch-and-run for 43 yards drastically changed the field position.
Roethlisberger followed that with a 13-yard toss to Heath Miller to the 30-yard line, but a short Bell run, an incompletion and a Mercilus sack doomed the drive. Mike Adams had to replace Marcus Gilbert at right tackle during the drive because Gilbert was taken to the locker room with a concussion. Fortunately for the Steelers, Shaun Suisham was good on a 44-yard field goal into the closed end of the stadium.
The Steelers forced another punt and needed just two plays to get within 13-10. Bell ran for 28 yards to the Houston 35, and from there it was easy for Roethlisberger to reach the end zone where Bryant beat cornerback Andre Hal for his first NFL touchdown on his very first NFL catch, playing in his first NFL game after being deactivated on game day the previous six times.
But the Steelers' amazing comeback wasn't yet complete. Worilds, who was playing a tremendous game after a slow start, hit Foster and forced a fumble inside the 5. Sean Spence recovered at the 3 and the Steelers needed just one play to take the lead. Brown appeared to be headed from left to right with a reverse toss from Roethlisberger, but he spun back around and threw a touchdown pass to Lance Moore. Brown is left-handed, and he rolled left.
Trailing 17-13 at this point, one might have believed the Texans should simply have taken a knee. They didn't, and Fitzpatrick's pass attempt was tipped by Brett Keisel. The ball caromed off of Lawrence Timmons' helmet back to Keisel, and he returned it a few yards to the 8. On first down, Roethlisberger hit Brown for six yards to the 2. Bell was split wide on second down, and Roethlisberger fired it to him for a touchdown on a quick-out with 14 seconds remaining until halftime.
This amazing turnaround, beginning with the field goal, led to 24 points in only 2:54. That included three touchdowns in just 1:13, as the Steelers took a 24-13 advantage into the locker room at halftime. After opening the game with three conversions on three third-down attempts and going 1-for-1 on fourth down, the Texans missed on seven straight to close out the half.
Houston added a 31-yard field goal by Bullock at 3:13 into the fourth quarter, but missed out for better field position after the Steelers drove from their 1 to the 30. A 17-yard connection from Roethlisberger to Darrius Heyward-Bey was the key play. Roethlisberger also hit Brown for a first down, but two LeGarrette Blount runs netted zero yards. Then, a pass to Moore was a yard short of a first down. A short punt by Brad Wing aided the Texans, but it could have been much worse had the Steelers remained pinned against their own end zone.
The Steelers followed that with a 10-play, 70-yard drive that drained nearly six minutes off of the clock. But Brown's apparent touchdown catch was overturned, as the tip of his big toe was out of bounds. He and Roethlisberger hooked up for 15 yards a couple plays later, but it left the Steelers one yard short at the 7. So, Suisham had to kick a field goal. After a delay, his 30-yard boot was true, and the Steelers led 27-16 with 5:50 remaining.
The Steelers forced a fumble on the Texans' next possession and Suisham capped the short drive with a 40-yard field goal with 3:04 left. The Texans got a late Arian Foster touchdown and nearly snagged an onside kick on the ensuing kickoff, but TE Michael Palmer made the clutch recovery and the Steelers knelt out the game to move to 4-3 on the year.