Wild swing before halftime lifts Steelers over Texans on MNF
The deluge started with a desperation third-down heave, a trickle that turned into a downpour and led to another abrupt turn in the Pittsburgh Steelers’ confounding season.
Good one week and lousy the next, Pittsburgh managed to be both in a 30-23 victory over the mistake-prone Houston Texans on Monday night.
Ben Roethlisberger passed for two touchdowns and wide receiver Antonio Brown added another on a gadget play during a decisive 73-second stretch late in the first half that moved the Steelers from down 10 to an 11-point lead.
"You stand on the sidelines long enough, you will see explosions such as that," Steelers coach Mike Tomlin said. "It was good to be on the good side of it."
Roethlisberger finished with 265 yards passing. Le’Veon Bell racked up 145 yards of total offense, including a 43-yard catch-and-run with less than 2 minutes to go in the first half that became the spark the Steelers desperately needed.
"That provided the type of emotion the group needed," Tomlin said. "Then we kind of fed off that. The guys really capitalized on it."
Arian Foster ran for 102 yards for Houston (3-4) but only 29 over the final three quarters. Ryan Fitzpatrick was 21 of 32 for 262 yards with two touchdowns and an interception, but the Texans were undone by three turnovers, including consecutive offensive snaps that handed the momentum over to the Steelers.
"We had a terrible second quarter," Houston coach Bill O’Brien said. "We couldn’t come back from it. Just too many turnovers. We just had a hard time overcoming all those things."
Texans defensive end J.J. Watt recovered a fumble and picked up his third sack of the season but was neutralized for most of the second half.
Pittsburgh was listless for the first 25 minutes, letting Foster and Fitzpatrick do whatever they wanted as the Texans raced to a 13-0 lead that seemed larger.
A 44-yard Shaun Suisham field goal with 3:08 left in the half gave the Steelers a minor boost.
A strike from Roethlisberger to Bell provided a much larger one shortly after the 2-minute warning. Roethlisberger hit the versatile back for a 43-yard gain — Pittsburgh’s longest pass play of the season — to move the ball to the Houston 35-yard line.
Roethlisberger then found Martavis Bryant, who struggled staying healthy in the preseason and spent the first six weeks on the inactive list, with a beautiful rainbow that the rookie caught in the back of the end zone to make it 13-10 with 1:27 left.
"Everybody started clicking," Bryant said. "Everybody woke up. It was good to make the play to have the team wake up, get the momentum going."
The Steelers were just getting started.
Foster fumbled deep in Houston territory two plays after Bryant’s score and the Steelers recovered. Pittsburgh offensive coordinator Todd Haley, who has faced heavy criticism for his play-calling, went deep into his book to help the Steelers take the lead.
On first-and-goal, Roethlisberger flipped the ball to Brown, who was coming in motion. The Pro Bowl wide receiver then spun back around to his left and fired a strike to Lance Moore in the end zone.
"We worked on it like two times in practice," Brown said. "The first time was a little funny, but the second time it panned out."
Houston’s issues escalated on the next snap when Fitzpatrick’s throw over the middle was deflected into the arms of Pittsburgh defensive end Brett Keisel. The 36-year-old took the second pick of his career to the Houston 8.
Roethlisberger found Brown for a 6-yard gain and then hit Bell — who was uncovered after going in motion — for a touchdown.
The turnaround left Heinz Field euphoric and the Texans and Watt stunned.
The Steelers methodically added on in the second half, extending the lead to 14 points on a pair of Suisham field goals before a late scoring pass from Fitzpatrick to Foster provided the final margin.
The end played in stark contrast to the beginning, when the Texans dominated.
Fitzpatrick found rookie running back Alfred Blue for an 11-yard touchdown pass to end a 10-play, 94-yard drive on the Texans’ opening possession before Watt went to work.
The MVP candidate recovered a Roethlisberger fumble, leading to a 39-yard field goal by Randy Bullock that gave Houston a 10-0 lead. Watt later dropped Roethlisberger for his third sack of the year.
It was the third time this season that Watt had a fumble recovery and a sack in the same game. No other player in the NFL has more than one.
Still, it couldn’t stop the Texans from extending a slide that has erased the positive vibes from their promising 3-1 start.
NOTES: Bell became the first player in Steelers history to start the season with seven straight games of 100 yards of total offense. … Texans WR Andre Johnson caught five passes for 77 yards to move past Hall of Famer Steve Largent and into 14th place on the NFL’s career yards receiving list. … Steelers RT Marcus Gilbert left in the first half with a concussion and did not return. … Watt’s fumble recovery was the ninth of his career, a new franchise record. … The Steelers host Indianapolis on Sunday. The Texans travel to Tennessee.