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 offence, 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 capitalised on it.”
Arian Foster ran for 102 yards for Houston (3-4), but just 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 JJ Watt recovered a fumble and picked up his third sack of the season but was neutralised for most of the second half.
Pittsburgh were 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.
Eventually, they got things together.
“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.”
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 late in the first half, 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.
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