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Texans-Steelers postgame notebook

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Defensive end Mario Williams recorded two sacks in the game.

PITTSBURGH - In the Texans' 38-17 loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers at Heinz Field, defensive end Mario Williams stood out with a two-sack performance. Wide receiver Andre Johnson led the way on offense with 112 yards receiving.

Big game for Mario: Defensive end Mario Williams validated the hype surrounding him this offseason, dropping Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger for two sacks and a forced fumble. The 2006 No. 1 overall draft pick also excelled in run support, racking up six tackles against the Steelers.

Williams first got to Roethlisberger in the second quarter, blindsiding him and jarring the ball loose at the Houston 32. Linebacker DeMeco Ryans ran the fumble recovery 41 yards the other way to put the Texans in scoring range. The second sack came a possession later on a third-and-three for Pittsburgh when Williams stuffed Roethlisberger for a 12-yard loss that forced a Steelers punt.

Had the Texans been able to capitalize with more points, Williams' two sacks could have been game-changing plays. But given the outcome of the game, Williams didn't take any satisfaction from his performance.

"No," he said. "Because we lost. From a personal standpoint, I look over there on that bench and I see Ben with his hat on, and I'm like … that was the beginning of the fourth quarter. I don't like that too much. All that other stuff is wiped out."

Williams, who was third in the NFL with 14 sacks last year, also had two sacks in the 2007 season opener against the Kansas City Chiefs. Dating back to last season, he now has 10 sacks in his last six games.

"I can't say enough about the kid," Texans coach Gary Kubiak said after the game. "We've got to continue to find him some help, but this kid, he goes all day. He never says a word. Could easily get frustrated, but he doesn't. He keeps playing.

"The kid's special. The kid's special. He's something else."

Fourth-down call questioned: The Texans lost momentum at the beginning of the game after a call by the officials that was hotly contested by Kubiak. Houston drove the ball past midfield on the opening possession and, facing a a fourth-and-one from the Pittsburgh 48-yard line, went for the first down on a quarterback sneak.

Schaub appeared to gain enough ground to move the chains, but the ball was spotted just short of the first-down marker.

After a TV timeout during which Kubiak angrily voiced his displeasure over the call to referee Terry McAulay, Kubiak threw his red challenge flag to contest the spot of the ball. Replays appeared to indicate that the play might be overturned, but McAulay declared after review that the original ruling on the field would stand.

"The thing I was disappointed in is the referee signaled first down twice and then the guy on the side came in and spotted the ball," Kubiak said. "So that was my biggest fuss. I asked Terry, I said, 'Terry, you signaled first down. So what happened between that and spotting the ball?'

"But basically, if they spot it and it's not good enough, that's the way it goes. That's what we've got to live with."

It's hard to say that particular play affected the outcome of the entire game, but Pittsburgh responded to the turnover with a touchdown to take the lead, and the Texans' offense sputtered on their ensuing possessions until well into the third quarter.

{QUOTE}"We had something going there on that first series," said Schaub, who noted that he thought he had enough yards for the first down. "We were moving the football and get the ball right there at midfield and I think if we get that, we get a fresh set of downs and who knows what would've happened. We could've set the tone for the football game by either getting seven or three out of that first drive, but you can't just go back and say that play turned the tables."

Bumpy outing for Schaub: Schaub battled Pittsburgh's swarming pass rush to finish the game with respectable numbers: 25-of-33 passing for 202 yards and a passing and rushing touchdown, good for a quarterback rating of 75.6.

Pittsburgh didn't make it easy. The Texans allowed five sacks in the game, three by Pro Bowl linebacker James Harrison. Houston gave up only 22 sacks in the entire 2007 season.

Pittsburgh also registered six quarterback hurries, often forcing Schaub to dump the ball off to a running back in the flat.

In a tough first half, Schaub had a 40.9 quarterback rating after going 12-of-17 for 80 yards and two interceptions, on consecutive possessions, by linebacker Lamarr Woodley and safety Troy Polamalu.

Kubiak said that he didn't consider replacing Schaub with backup Sage Rosenfels, except for when Schaub took a hard hit on his second sack that Kubiak worried might have caused an injury. But Schaub, who missed five games with injuries last season, stayed in the game and finished on a high note with his 14-yard touchdown strike to Kevin Walter and four-yard touchdown run, both in the fourth quarter.

"You're going to have to play near-perfect to have a chance to beat [Pittsburgh], especially in this place," Kubiak said. "The kid battled his heart out. He kept playing. He took a shot early, which concerned me. I'm not sure he wasn't dinged up a little bit, but we've got to protect the ball."

The Texans lost the overall turnover battle 3-1.

Slaton carries the load: Rookie running back Steve Slaton had a team-high 13 carries for 43 yards and three catches for six yards, compared to five carries and four receptions for starter Ahman Green.

Slaton's numbers don't reflect the tough and elusive running style he displayed. Often met by multiple defenders at or behind the line of scrimmage, Slaton dodged and/or ran through tacklers on several plays. On one short pass in the fourth quarter, the rookie out of West Virginia brushed off three would-be tacklers on a four-yard gain.

"I thought I saw some positive things and I also thought I saw some things that, in my opinion, he could do a lot better," Kubiak said. "He had some creases in some areas that he's got to get the ball downhill quicker, but it's his first time out. Looked like he was OK in protection. He's got to become a good player for us for us to become effective, so we're counting on him."

Green, playing for the first time since pulling his groin on the first play of the preseason opener, was limited as Kubiak purposefully eased him back into action. The veteran back fared well when he touched the ball, gaining 28 yards rushing and averaging 5.6 yards a carry.

Growing pains for Brown: Rookie left tackle Duane Brown was flagged for a 10-yard tripping penalty in the red zone and struggled at times to deal with the Steelers' aggressive 3-4 defense. On one play, Harrison got around Brown and forced Schaub to fumble on a sack, then Brown misread the loose ball to help Pittsburgh come up with the recovery in Houston territory.

Brown, the No. 26 overall pick in the 2008 draft out of Virginia Tech, was unhappy with his performance, but he took it in stride as a learning experience.

"It was pretty rough," he said. "I blame myself. They have a great defense, great players, but I hurt myself more, I think, just with my technique and stuff. I got out of whack sometimes, and that hurt us a couple plays. But I've just got to bounce back."

Notes: Wide reciever Andre Johnson had a game-high 10 receptions for 112 yards. It was his 18th career 100-yard receiving game and his third straight season opener with more than 100 yards.

Strong side linebacker Zac Diles, a seventh-round draft pick in 2007, had a game-high 13 tackles in his first career start. Ryans, who led the NFL with 283 tackles in the 2006-07 seasons combined, continued his tackling-machine ways by finishing with 12 tackles, two for a loss, and his career-long fumble recovery.

Kicker Kris Brown scored on a 34-yard field goal in the second quarter to extend his streak of scoring in consecutive games to 68. Brown finished the game with five points on a field goal and two extra points.

Injury update: Recently-signed defensive end Stanley McClover suffered a right knee injury and did not return.

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