(Yahoo!) The Pittsburgh Steelers overcame a dreary start to wake up right before halftime.
After the Houston Texans took a 13-0 lead and dominated the majority of the first half, the Steelers scored 24 points in the final three-plus minutes of the second quarter — including three TDs in 73 seconds — in a 30-23 victory.
According to NFL Network, the Steelers’ 24 points in that short a span was the most in the NFL since 2002. The last time an NFL team scored three touchdowns in shorter time was the New England Patriotsin a 52-second span during the infamous “Buttfumble” game against the New York Jets in 2012.
The Steelers raised their record to 4-3 while the Texans fell to 3-4. The Steelers have not lost a Monday night home game since Bubby Brister was quarterback, back in 1991.
The Texans looked strong early — something they hadn’t done a lot of coming into the game. After holding the Steelers on the first defensive series before they crossed midfield, the Texans embarked on a 10-play, 94-yard drive that beautifully mixed zone runs and a few timing passes.
Arian Foster ripped off a 33-yard cutback run that showed the age and lack of speed on the Steelers’ defense, and rookie back Alfred Blue capped the drive with a sneaky little screen for the touchdown from 11 yards out that seemed to surprise the Steelers.
Quarterback Ben Roethlisberger got the ball back and had the Steelers on the move the following drive, but Whitney Mercilus — who really has come on lately — made two big plays to stunt the drive. First, he tagged Steelers running back LeVeon Bell in the backfield for a two-yard loss then took down Roethlisberger on a strip sack, which was recovered by (of course) J.J. Watt.
The Texans converted that into a nine-play drive, but quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick couldn’t connect with Foster on a wheel route, and they settled on a Randy Bullock field goal for a 10-0 lead.
The Steelers’ offense continued to look stagnant and unimaginative, and Heinz Field fans started to boo after they went three-and-out on the first possession of the second quarter.
After a Fitzpatrick scramble on third down and a fourth-and-inches conversion on a Foster run for 11 yards, the Texans stalled on the edge of the Steelers’ red zone and once more turned to Bullock. His 38-yard field goal made it 13-0 Texans.
That’s when the game turned on its head.
After Watt jumped offsides on 3rd-and-15, Roethlisberger hit Bell on an angle route — catching Brian Cushing flat-footed — who ran 43 yards to flip the field. But Mercilus once again sacked Roethlisberger, and the Steelers had to settle for a 44-yard Shaun Suisham field goal.
The Steelers defense finally stepped up with a three-and-out (and a pass rush!), giving the ball back to their offense just inside the two-minute warning. Roethlisberger dumped it to Bell on a screen for 28 yards and then found rookie wide receiver Martavis Bryant for his first NFL reception in his first NFL game — a 35-yard touchdown grab, burning a fellow rookie in Texans corner Andre Hal to quickly cut the Houston lead to 13-10.
Bell would finish the game with 145 yards from scrimmage, including 88 receiving.
The Texans’ implosion continued. After Danieal Manning bobbled the ensuing kickoff and only got out to the 5-yard line. Then Foster fumbled the ball on third down, which was reviewed on replay, and the Steelers took over at the Houston 3.
That’s when embattled Steelers offensive coordinator Todd Haley pulled out the dumbest/smartest/most amazing play call ever.
The Steelers ran a toss sweep reverse pass — with Roethlisberger blocking on Mercilus — with the lefthanded Antonio Brown throwing a touchdown pass to Lance Moore for a 17-13 Steelers lead.
Fitzpatrick then did the unimaginable (for most quarterbacks): He gave it right back to the Steelers. His off-balance pass with pressure closing in was intercepted by Steelers defensive end Brett Keisel after the ball deflected off a Texans offensive lineman’s helmet.
Two plays later, Roethlisberger hit a wide-open Bell for a touchdown — and a stunning 24-13 lead — after the Texans appeared to blow a defensive assignment. Safety D.J. Swearinger ran out late in coverage of Bell and then yelled at his teammates in disgust.
Twenty-one Steelers points on drives lasting 19, seven and 44 seconds before the end of the half — incredible.
The Steelers could have stepped on the Texans’ necks to start the second half. They had a fourth down and less than a yard to go from the Houston 40-yard line, but head coach Mike Tomlin opted to punt instead.
The Texans, meanwhile, at least were aggressive when they had the chance. They converted a fake punt from their own 40 and moved into Pittsburgh territory but were stopped on third down on their second possession of the second half. Third-down failures were a story all game for the Texans.
But they did make it interesting. After Andre Johnson caught a mere one pass for 4 yards in the first three quarters, Johnson dominated the Texans’ first possession of the fourth quarter, catching two passes for 45 yards and drawing a pass interference. But they bogged down in the red zone and had to settle for a Bulluck 31-yarder to make it 24-16, Steelers with just under 12 minutes left.
The Steelers then took over. Brown caught an amazing diving pass for 30 yards on the sideline, which was confirmed on replay, and then caught a fade from Roethlisberger on the next play for what appeared to be a 16-yard touchdown to put the game away. But replay showed Brown’s left toe touching out of bounds. Brown made another tremendous catch and run on third down but came up a yard short, and Suisham’s field goal gave the Steelers a 27-16 edge with six minutes left.
The Texans had a shot to get back into it after Fitzpatrick hit DeAndre Hopkins on a 32-yard pass past midfield, but Hopkins fumbled and the Steelers tacked on another Suisham field goal for a 30-16 lead.
Foster, who would finish with 102 yards rushing on 20 carries, caught a 1-yard touchdown pass with 1:31 left to cut the lead to seven points. But the Texans couldn’t recover the onsides kick after a mad scramble — at least six players touched the squirting ball — and the Steelers ran out the clock with Houston out of timeouts.