Same old Texans? Not this time.
A week after allowing 23 fourth-quarter points in a loss to the New Orleans Saints, the Texans limited the Pittsburgh Steelers to three points in the fourth quarter of a 17-10 victory at Reliant Stadium. They limited the defending AFC champs to a total of 32 yards on their last four drives, and Arian Foster scored the game-winning touchdown on a 42-yard run with 12:02 remaining.
"Now, we believe when we play a game, we aren't the underdog," said defensive end Antonio Smith, who had one of the Texans' five sacks on Ben Roethlisberger. "We have to go in with the belief that we can beat every team we play, that we can beat the Patriots or the Steelers. This team has a confidence in itself. It has a belief."
Foster ran 30 times for 155 yards, the most by any player against Pittsburgh since 2003, in his return to the starting lineup from a hamstring injury. The Texans lost Andre Johnson to a hamstring injury in the second quarter but held on to a 10-0 halftime lead by imposing their will on the ground with 180 rushing yards.
"That's something we pride ourselves on as an offensive line and tight ends, fullbacks, everybody," left guard Wade Smith said. "We're going to come out and dictate what we need to do to whatever defense we play against. We feel like if we do what we're supposed to do, we can move the ball on anybody."
The Texans overcame nine penalties for 61 yards, including two that nullified touchdowns by cornerback Johnathan Joseph.
"That just tells you we weren't going to let anything get in our way today," Texans coach Gary Kubiak said. "We knew there were going to be some tough breaks in the game. A lot of times when those things happen to teams, they can't overcome them. But that wasn't the case today."
With Johnson out, tight end Owen Daniels led the Texans with 69 receiving yards on five catches. He had three catches for 30 yards on the first drive of the game, including a one-yard touchdown pass from Matt Schaub on first-and-goal. The Texans lost running back Ben Tate to a groin injury but covered 95 yards on a team-record 19 plays on the drive, taking 10:55 off the clock.
On the Steelers' first drive, linebacker Connor Barwin sacked Roethlisberger and forced a fumble near midfield on third down. Linebacker Brian Cushing recovered for the Texans, but the play was nullified by an illegal contact penalty on Joseph. Not to be denied, Barwin sacked Roethlisberger three plays later to force a punt.
Midway through the second quarter, Johnson was injured on a 13-yard catch as the Texans were driving down the field. The Texans wound up settling for a 25-yard field goal by Neil Rackers to take a 10-0 lead.
Roethlisberger then drove the Texans down the field in a two-minute offense, completing a 40-yard pass to wide receiver Mike Wallace along the way. But the drive was all for naught as safety Danieal Manning blocked a 30-yard field goal attempt by Shaun Suisham on the final play of the first half. Joseph scooped up the ball and raced the other way for a 61-yard touchdown, but Manning was flagged for a block in the back to wipe out the score.
Despite a sack by Mario Williams on the first series of the second half, Roethlisberger engineered a 79-yard scoring drive. It ended with a three-yard touchdown run by Rashard Mendenhall to make the score 10-7.
After a three-and-out by the Texans, Kubiak gathered the entire offense on the sideline in the bench area and lit into the players with a fiery speech. The Steelers then tied the game on the first play of the fourth quarter with a 26-yard field goal.
The Texans responded with a five-play, 85-yard drive that produced Foster's go-ahead touchdown. Daniels had two key first downs on the drive, a nine-yard grab followed by a 30-yard catch down the left sideline.
"We came out probably a little flat; just didn't look the same type of urgency," Daniels said. "Didn't look the same as we did in the first half – didn't look the same to Kubs, so he came over and let us know about that, and we listened.
"I've never been a coach who cared as much as he does about his players and care about the game. It means so much to him. He's a great coach and he knows the right things to say at the right time."
The Texans' defense ratcheted up the pressure on the next series. Nose tackle Shaun Cody sacked Roethlisberger on second down, and cornerback Jason Allen flattened wide receiver Hines Ward on third down to jar loose a would-be first-down catch and force a punt.
Steelers safety Troy Polamalu tackled Foster twice in the next three plays to force a three-and-out. The Texans notched two more sacks on the next drive on consecutive plays, first by Smith and then by Williams. After yet another three-and-out by the Texans, the defense forced a turnover on downs when Barwin batted down a pass on fourth-and-seven at the Houston 45-yard line.
The Texans got the ball back with 2:33 remaining and a seven-point lead. They punted to Pittsburgh with 1:02 on the clock. Rookie Brett Hartmann's 45-yard punt was downed at the one-yard line by cornerbacks Brice McCain Brandon Harris.
It looked like Joseph quashed the Steelers' comeback hopes on the very next play. He picked off Roethlisberger and ran the ball into the end zone for a touchdown, but the play was called back on a roughing-the-passer penalty on J.J. Watt.
Pittsburgh drove to its own 40-yard line, but Allen picked off Roethlisberger with 10 seconds remaining on a deep pass intended for wide receiver Antonio Brown. That sealed the game and allowed the Texans to kneel out the clock on their victory.
"We've talked about mental toughness," Texans chairman and CEO Bob McNair said after the game. "Physically, we have been tough enough, but mentally, sometimes we haven't. Hopefully, this is an indication that that mental toughness is there."