By Teresa Varley
The Steelers scored on their first three possessions and never looked back as they defeated the Houston Texans 38-17 in the season-opener.
It was all Steelers from the get-go, as they dominated on offense and defense for a full 60 minutes.
"I think that we played a good game in virtually all three phases," said head coach Mike Tomlin. "It was not perfect but I liked the energy and enthusiasm from the people who went out and made plays for this football team. That is what it is about. I am glad that we got this win today but tomorrow we move on."
Quarterback Ben Roethlisberger completed an impressive 13 of 14 passes for 137 yards and two touchdowns for a passer rating of 147.0, before coming out of the game at the start of the fourth quarter. Hines Ward had six receptions for 76 yards and was on the receiving end of both of Roethlisberger's touchdown passes.
Willie Parker was the mainstay for the ground game with 25 carries for 138 yards and the first three touchdown day of his career.
Andre Davis took the opening kickoff seven yards deep and brought it out to the 21-yard line for the Texans. Matt Schaub started fast with an 11-yard completion to Kevin Walker, and came back with a 14-yard completion to Andre Johnson. The defense then tightened the reigns, and on third-and-three Schaub was pressured by Aaron Smith, escaped for a completion to David Anderson, who was then stopped by Deshea Townsend for only a two-yard gain. The Texans went for it on fourth down, but Schaub was stopped up the middle by Brett Keisel and Casey Hampton.
The Steelers got the ball with great field position at their own 48-yard line and swiftly moved the ball down field. Roethlisberger completed his first pass attempt of the game to Heath Miller for a six-yard gain. On third-and-four Roethlisberger got it done with his legs, going around right end for a 17-yard gain. Parker got the call for gains of three and four yards and Santonio Holmes came up huge with a nine-yard reception. Parker capped the drive with a seven-yard touchdown run, to give the Steelers the 7-0 lead.
Schaub got the Texans offense rolling again, with a third-down completion to Johnson followed by a 24-yard completion to the veteran receiver. But when called upon to get it done, the defense stepped up again, with LaMarr Woodley sacking Schaub for a nine-yard loss and James Farrior and Nick Eason combining for a 14-yard sack to shut down their drive.
Roethlisberger went for broke to start their next drive, hitting Ward who got free for a 74-yard gain. The play was called back because of offsetting penalties, offensive interference against Ward and a face mask against C.C. Brown. It didn't deter the Steelers who instead picked away with bits and pieces, including two receptions for first downs by Miller and a 29-yard catch and run by Ward.
Things got a little dicey when Holmes fumbled after a 10-yard reception, but the ball went out of bounds and the Steelers maintained possession. On the next play Roethlisberger fumbled the snap for a two-yard loss. It was back to their bread and butter as Parker weaved his way through the defense for a 13-yard touchdown to extend the lead to 14-0.
The defense continued to swarm and on third down James Harrison pressured Schaub and made him pay, as Woodley intercepted his pass attempt and returned it six yards to the Texans 32-yard line.
Rookie Rashard Mendenhall got his first carry of the season and turned it into a six-yard gain, with a face mask penalty tacked on to the end of the run. Roethlisberger found Ward open in the end zone on the next play, giving the Steelers a 21-0 lead in the second quarter.
The defense continued to feed off the energy the offense provided with another big play to shut down a Texans drive. Troy Polamalu intercepted a pass intended for Johnson, giving the Steelers the ball back at the Texans 32-yard line.
The Steelers couldn't make it count for them this time. Roethlisberger was sacked by Mario Williams and fumbled, with linebacker DeMeco Ryans recovering and returning it 41-yards to the 24-yard line where Parker brought him down. Parker was called for a face mask, giving the Texans a perfect opportunity at the 12-yard line.
Instead of moving the ball toward the end zone, the Texans lost four yards on the drive and had to settle for a 34-yard Kris Brown field goal for the final score of the half.
The Steelers started off the second half by keeping the ball on the ground with Parker getting the lion's share of the work. Parker had four consecutive carries including a 12-yard and nine-yard run. Mendenhall gave him a breather for a few snaps, but it was right back to Parker for two short gains. Parker fittingly got the call at the goal line for his third touchdown of the day, a four-yard run to put the Steelers out in front 28-3.
The Texans continued to struggle to find a way to move the ball on the Steelers defense, with a quick three-and-out on their next drive.
But it was even a tougher challenge for the Texans defense trying to stop an explosive Steelers offense. Parker continued to be dominant, going over 100 yards on the next drive, which included a 32-yard run that only ended when he ran out of bounds on his own. Roethlisberger connected once again with Ward for a 16-yard touchdown, giving the black and gold a comfortable 35-3 lead late in the third quarter.
Byron Leftwich entered the game at quarterback at the start of the fourth quarter, giving Roethlisberger a well-deserved rest.
The Texans managed to get in the end zone in the fourth quarter, when Schaub hit Walter for a 14-yard touchdown reception.
The Steelers didn't let up on defense no matter how big a lead the team had. Harrison sacked Schaub and Woodley recovered. The Steelers turned it into a 44-yard Jeff Reed field goal putting the Steelers up 38-10. Schaub added a rushing touchdown inside of two minutes.