For 57 minutes, the Pittsburgh Steelers offense was handcuffed by JJ Watt and the Houston Texans defense.
Ben Roethlisberger and Ryan Fitzpatrick's were actually identical statistically for much of the night. However, much of Fitzpatrick’s total was accumulated in a frantic comeback attempt on the final two drives of regulation. Conversely, Roethlisberger caught fire at the end of the first half.
If only the Texans were as productive in the final 3:08 of the first half, when the Texans began setting themselves on fire, they’d be over .500 on Tuesday morning.
Instead, the Texans offense went dormant for the final 33 minutes and the defense sniffed chloroform for those four possessions.
The first Steelers scoring drive resulted in a 3rd and 10, following a defensive offsides call that gave the Steelers five yards back. Roethlisberger found Le’Veon Bell for a quick dump off pass which Bell delivered 43 yards upfield and Shane Suisham converted to a field goal.
Whatever the antithesis of a two-minute drill is, the Texans offense patented it on Monday Night.
On the very next drive the Texans went three-and out. The Steelers offense didn't even last that long scoring a touchdown in two plays.
After averting a near fumble disaster by Daniel Manning on the ensuing kickoff, Arian Foster dropped it like it was hot on the three-yard line. One play later, Roethlisberger pitched it to Antonio Brown who was sprinting to his right, cut back to his left, about 10 yards behind the line of scrimmage and with Watt bearing down on him found Lance Moore in the back of the end zone.
Instead of cutting their losses and calling it a day, the Texans cartoon offense stood underneath another anvil by throwing it on first down with 1:03 remaining. Under pressure Fitzpatrick tossed his seventh interception of the season on a freaky pass that bounced off the hand and helmet of Brett Keisel then back off the helmet of Lawrence Timmons into Keisel’s right hand. Keisel promptly returned his Halloween treat to the 16-yard line and in two plays Roethlisberger put Houston's gassed defense out of their misery by throwing for Pittsburgh's third touchdown pass in 1:56.
The interception wasn’t Fitzpatrick’s fault, but the throw was still awfully ill-advised and is exactly what we came to expect from a quarterback who led the league in interceptions three years ago.
Somehow the Texans defense held the Steelers to a field goal for the next 25 minutes. However, the Texans also folded, making the aging Pittsburgh defense look like the Steel Curtain for one night and could only muster a single field goal of their own.
Yet, the Steelers stalled offense gave the Texans an opening. Trailing by eight, the Texans’ momentum ran into a brick wall when DeAndre Hopkins was stripped at the Pittsburgh 48 with 4:55 remaining on the clock.
Pittsburgh milked the clock and kicked another field goal.
Back where they began, Arian Foster punched in a touchdown from the one-yard line to make it a one possession game, but Houston drew its last breath after a failed onside kick.
The Texans defense has never been an issue. However, any unit trying to stave off its own offense and the opponent’s is bound to crack.
Given Fitzpatrick’s ineffectiveness and Bill O'Brien's praise of Ryan Mallett's readiness, there’s no explanation for why he hasn’t been given the reigns yet to his former New England pupil. Watt recorded another sack and forced a fumble, but an expansion to his involvement with the offense could be the only tweak O'Brien seems willing to make to one of the league’s most destitute passing attacks.