TEXANS 17, STEELERS 10
Steelers' record: 2-2
One year ago: 3-1
Series record (including playoffs): Series tied, 2-2
Coach Mike Tomlin assessed the challenge this way: "We value AFC road wins, and that's why this is a big game for us. We understand how position races and playoffs positions are slotted. We don't want to look back at September and say, woulda, coulda, shoulda. We've had some AFC road games already – this is our third one this month – and we better be ready to seize the opportunity."
TURNING POINTIt's not easy to identify a specific play as the game's turning point, but the Texans certainly set a tone for the game when they won the toss and then proceeded to drive 95 yards in 19 plays for a touchdown that came on a 1-yard pass from Matt Schaub to Owen Daniels. That possession took 10 minutes and 55 seconds.
STATS THAT STAND OUT
The Texans were in complete control throughout the first half, and there are many statistics that can be cited as evidence of that. The Texans finished the half with more first downs (14-7) and total net yards (216-125); they converted 5-of-7 on third downs to 1-of-4 for the Steelers; and their edge in time of possession was significant (21:32-8:28).
WHAT WENT RIGHTThe Steelers got a big break in the first quarter when a sack-fumble-recovery of Ben Roethlisberger by OLB Connor Barwin was nullified by an illegal contact penalty on Johnathan Joseph. Instead of the Texans having the ball at the Steelers' 37-yard line, the Steelers got a fresh set of downs starting at the Texans' 47-yard line.
The Texans had converted 4-of-4 on third downs when they faced a third-and-3 at the Houston 42-yard line. Aaron Smith defeated a block and dropped Arian Foster after a 1-yard gain to force a punt.
Injuries are a part of the game, but there is no arguing that the Texans offense was rendered less dangerous when WR Andre Johnson went down without being hit in the latter part of the second quarter after catching a short pass and turning up the field. Johnson grabbed his knee, and then he limped off the field into the locker room.
The only statistical category in which the Steelers held an edge at halftime was in the number of penalties. The Texans were flagged eight times, and the last of those eight took a touchdown off the board – when the return on the blocked field goal was nullified by an illegal block penalty.
The Steelers desperately needed something good to happen for them, and they got it on the opening possession of the second half. It was a touchdown drive that covered 74 yards in 13 plays and included two critical third-down conversions by Ben Roethlisberger. On the first he scrambled away from a pass rush and found Hines Ward for 19 yards to convert a third-and-14, and on the second he avoided the rush and scrambled for 7 yards to convert a third-and-6. Rashard Mendenhall scored to cut the Texans' lead to 10-7 midway through the third quarter.
On a third-and-6 from the Houston 40-yard line, Matt Schaub went deep down the right sideline for Jacoby Jones. Keenan Lewis was in single coverage, and he got a hand up to knock the ball away to force a punt.
WHAT WENT WRONG
The game's opening possession was an ominous start for the Steelers in so many ways. The Texans drove 95 yards in 19 plays and used 10 minutes, 55 seconds of the game clock. They were able to overcome two holding penalties. Arian Foster and Ben Tate combined for 61 rushing yards on 11 carries. They converted 3-of-3 third downs. And two Steelers starters – James Farrior and Ryan Clark – were shaken up and had to leave the game momentarily.After a 22-yard catch-and-run by Mike Wallace on the Steelers' opening possession, he was flagged for a 15-yard unsportsmanlike conduct penalty for taunting the Texans' sideline.
On second-and-3 just after the two-minute warning, Ben Roethlisberger got rid of the ball quickly and threw it to a spot where he expected Antonio Brown to be, but the receiver ran a longer route. Offensive coordinator Bruce Arians scolded Brown from the sideline after the ball fell incomplete.
The Steelers had a first down at the Texans' 20-yard line with 1:11 left in the first half. Mewelde Moore ran for 14 yards on a draw play, but at the end of the play Maurkice Pouncey was flagged for a personal foul for a late hit on Connor Barwin. The net result was that the Steelers lost nine seconds off the clock and ended up with a first-and-10 at the 21-yard line.
It hadn't happened since Dec. 7, 2006 when Cleveland's Alvin McKinley did it, but it happened on the final play of the first half. Houston CB Danieal Manning broke through to block a 30-yard field goal attempt by Shaun Suisham. The ball was returned 61 yards for a touchdown by Johnathan Joseph, but the play was nullified by an illegal block penalty on Manning.
The stretch play with the cut-back to the weak side by the running back is a staple of the Texans' offense, and it was one of those that resulted in the 42-yard touchdown run by Arian Foster that gave the Texans a 17-10 lead. The play started to the left, and then when Foster cut it back, he stepped out of an attempted tackle by LaMarr Woodley and out-ran the pursuit to the pylon for the score.
The Steelers had a second-and-10 at their 26-yard line and needed a touchdown to tie the game. On that play, Antonio Smith sacked Roethlisberger. After a false start penalty on Trai Essex, Mario Williams sacked Roethlisberger to force a punt with 5:58 left in the game.