Le'Veon Bell beats D.J. Swearinger for a 2-yard touchdown pass in the second quarter of last night's win. (Brett Coomer/Houston Chronicle)
The Texans got off to their best start of the season in Pittsburgh Monday night, but then played what might have been the worst three minutes in their history as the Steelers exploded for 24 quick points at the end of the first half and coasted to a 30-23 victory at Heinz Field.
A late, meaningless 1-yard touchdown pass to Arian Foster at lead made the final score modestly respectable. The Texans’ subsequent onsides kick failed, and the Texans dropped to 3-4 on the season.
The Texans narrowed the gap to 24-16 with a 31-yard Randy Bullock field goal – his third of the evening – with 11½ minutes left, but that will be remembered as another major failure, given that they had a first down at the Steelers’ 15 and couldn’t capitalize. And Pittsburgh countered with a clock-eating drive that ended with Shaun Suisham’s own 30-yard field goal that kept the Texans needing two scores to have a chance to win.
A subsequent 32-yard completion from Ryan Fitzpatrick to DeAndre Hopkins at the Steelers 48 ended in typical Texans fashion when Hopkins, failing to protect the football, got stripped by Michael Mitchell and Troy Polamalu recovered. It was the Texans’ third turnover of the game and was almost an exact replica of Andre Johnson’s fumble that cost the Texans their best chance to overtake the Colts nine days earlier.
Prior to Suisham’s field goal, the Texans had challenged an apparent 16-yard touchdown pass to Andre Brown and were proven correct by the replay official, getting a brief reprieve. But after what had befallen to them before halftime, nobody could have much faith that the evening was going to end happily for the visitors.
Suishman’s third field goal, from 40 yards away, gave the Steelers their final margin of victory. It was the third time in their last five games they’ve surrendered at least 30 points.
The disastrous second-quarter stretch, built upon an Arian Foster fumble and a Ryan Fitzpatrick interception – both deep in Houston territory – rendered the Texans’ opening 94-yard touchdown drive barely an afterthought as they lost their third game in a row and their fourth in five starts after a 2-0 start.
The Texans, who had been struggling mightily at the outset every week, built a 13-0 lead on rookie Alfred Blue’s 11-yard scoring catch and a pair of Randy Bullock field goals before they came unhinged, collapsing on both offense and defense.
After Pittsburgh settled for a 44-yard Shaun Suisham field goal with 3:08 left in the half to get on the scoreboard, the Texans surrendered three touchdown passes in 73 seconds, one of them on a trick-play pass from Brown to fellow receiver Lance Moore. Quarterback Ben Roesthlisberger also found Bryant for a 35-yard score – capping a two-play, 69-yard blitz of a drive – and then hooked up with running back Le’Veon Bell for a 2-yarder with 14 seconds left, sending the Texans to the locker room in a state of shock. Foster’s fumble, his second of the season, preceded the Suisham touchdown and Fitzpatrick’s pick, his eighth in five games, set up Bell’s score.
The Texans dominated early with Foster carrying the load, rushing for 73 first-quarter yards, and Fitzpatrick showing both the precision and poise that has all too often been lacking in his first season with the Texans.
The turning point occurred on the Pittsburgh field-goal drive when J. J. Watt’s offsides penalty on third down gave the Steelers a third-down do-over and Roethlisberger found Bell on a short pass over the middle that he turned into a 43-yard gain. Bell badly beat Texans inside linebacker Brian Cushing to make the catch, proving again that Cushing isn’t yet close to being the player he was before he suffered the second of two season-ending knee injuries a year ago.
Foster finished with xxx yards, 30th regular-season game of his career in which he gained at least 100. It was also his fifth in six games this year.
The Texans play at Tennessee Sunday and again an ongoing story this week will be whether top draft pick Jadeveon Clowney can get back on the field. The outside linebacker hasn’t played since tearing a meniscus in his knee in the opener against Washington and, despite much speculation that he’d see at least situational duty in the Pittsburgh game, would again be made inactive Monday night after a brief pre-game workout. But Clowney’s replacement, Whitney Mercilus, did come up with two first-half sacks.