What's not to like about a victory? Especially a much-needed victory, when 2 other AFC North foes fell on Sunday?
The critics are out, and many will point out the defense gave up 23 points, while the offense scored most of their points during a 2nd quarter flurry like no other in decades. While the defense gave up points, it was how they handled themselves which should be commended. Twice, the Texans were held to only field goals before the Steelers 24 point tear with minutes remaining in the first half.
Then, it was the flurry that becomes the big likes of the day.
The Steelers had to get points on the board and in a hurry. Down 13-0 with the Texans receiving the ball to start the 3rd quarter, the team obviously knew they had to close the gap. Everyone was holding their breath on Shaun Suisham's first field goal attempt, knowing all too well how what should be considered a "routine" attempt went last week in Cleveland, when Brad Wing botched the snap. Three points helped, but left a lot to be desired after an 8 play, 60 yard drive.
Then the team went berzerk.
The defense held Houston to a 3-and-out, lead by Lawrence Timmons' sack of Houston QB Ryan Fitzpatrick on 2nd down. The momentum was building, and the offense only needed 2 plays to find the end zone.
Playing in his first game, rookie WR Martavis Bryant split wide, and broke free for a 35 yard touchdown: his first career reception. Bryant would find himself open multiple times during the game, with a tough pass defensed and a pass overthrown in his direction. The trend on Bryant is definitely upward, though he only ended with 2 catches on the day, he saw far more snaps than anyone thought going into Monday night.
The Steelers special teams would factor in next (and multiple times throughout the night) as the held the Texans KR Danieal Manning at their own 5 yard line. Two plays later, Jason Worilds would force a fumble that no one thought was a live ball: except for LB Sean Spence, who's quick thinking played into an official review and the Steelers awarded the ball.
The offense would get the ball on the Houston 3, using a gadget play where Antonio Brown would toss a TD pass to Lance Moore.
But it wasn't over yet.
On the very next Houston offensive possession, a Ryan Fitzpatrick throw would ping-pong off Brett Keisel's shoulder pad to Lawrence Timmons helmet and back to Keisel for an interception. The offense received the ball on the Houston 8, and in 2 plays, an uncovered Le'Veon Bell would score Pittsburgh's final points of the half, a 24 point streak within about 3 minutes.
Critics will be quick to point out that all but one Steelers touchdown drive were 8 yards or shorter. However, I would point out that a team which has struggled in the red zone (31st in the league coming into Monday) found quick, creative and decisive ways to punch the ball over the goal line.
Combine the critique with that of the defense, which forced three turnovers. Players such as Jason Worilds, Sean Spence and Mike Mitchell were all key contributors, which is necessary as the season progresses. Mitchell, who had a slow start, now has 2 forced fumbles in 2 games; the reason why Pittsburgh signed him away from the Panthers this off-season.
Then there's the special teams play of Antwon Blake and Ross Ventrone, who both made some spectacular stops on kick and punt coverage.
While the praise is high, there are still some dislikes. As noted, the offense only had one drive over 8 yards which resulted in a touchdown. It's imperative the Steelers get points from their drives, and 2 longer drives resulted in only field goals. (Although a growing debate online is whether the touchdown by Antonio Brown, ruled such on the field and then overturned, was in fact a legal catch.) These misnomers have to be thrown out, however, because the team will have to play with whatever ruling stands. Crying over spilled milk won't win games: scoring points will.
And that's where another dislike comes from: the Steelers unwillingness to put the pedal to the floor and put games out of reach. With about 11 minutes remaining in the 3rd, Pittsburgh faced a 3rd and 1 from Houston's 41 yard line. For whatever reason, the team ran a shotgun formation, and called a halfback draw to LeGarrette Blount.
Head scratching ensues as to why they didn't try a power formation, much like later in the game, with 2 tight ends and a fullback. Blount failed to reach the down marker, and the Steelers played possum on attempting to go for it on 4th down. Other teams, rather a circumstance of desperation or wanting to drive the final nail in the coffin, may have considered this 2 down territory. Instead, the Steelers took a delay of game, and punted the ball away.
Finally, the prevent defense on Houston's final drive did anything but prevent. With a two score game, I understand where the coaching staff is coming from, but the bitter taste of a home loss to Tampa Bay is still fresh in my mouth. That's why calling a timeout on the ensuing onside kick attempt, only to see the "hands" team bobble the ball closer and closer to their own end zone, nearly caused an outrage. It's tiny mistakes and misjudgment such as this play, which could've given Houston an opportunity to erase their own errors and potentially tie, or win, the football game.
Overall there were more things to like, and a win at home, on prime time television, is something to build on. The Steelers will now host the Indianapolis Colts next Sunday at Heinz Field, as part 2 of 3 straight home games. The next 2 weeks will be even more critical, as the AFC North leading Baltimore Ravens travel to Cincinnati to challenge the Bengals: at least 1 of those 2 teams ahead of the Steelers in the division will lose, and with the Ravens coming to Pittsburgh the following week, this could be an opportunity for the team to build momentum and gain ground on their rivals.