Thoughts From The Pressbox

Dale Lolley has some stories to tell following the Steelers' improbable 30-23 win over the Houston Texans last night.

Much of the talk leading into this game centered around a 3-4 defensive lineman who was without a doubt one of the best playmakers not only at his position but any defensive position in the league.

And this game turned on the play of a defensive lineman, all right. But it wasn't Houston's J.J. Watt who had the biggest impact on the Steelers' 30-23 victory over the Texans.

While the Steelers had clearly grabbed the momentum in this game after Ben Roethlisberger's 35-yard touchdown pass to rookie Martavis Bryant and Jason Worilds' forced fumble at the 3 of Arian Foster that resulted in a second score, it was a tipped pass and interception by Brett Keisel that put the icing on the cake for the Steelers' 24-point barrage at the end of the first half.

Keisel, who spent most of the week leading up to this game rehabbing a knee injury suffered last week in Cleveland, tipped a Ryan Fitzpatrick pass at the line of scrimmage. It bounced off linebacker Lawrence Timmons and back into Keisel's arms at the Houston 24.

The 36-year-old then rumbled 16 yards with it before being taken down at the 8.

"I've been getting hell for not scoring and I'm still getting hell," said Keisel with a grin. "It was a good play for us. The offense went out and got six points for us, so it was a big momentum swing for us."

The Steelers had been on the other side of some of momentum swings this season, but finally started getting some bounces falling their way.

A bounce off Timmons' helmet here; an onside kick that seemingly squirmed its way 25 yards through 15 players before nestling into the arms of backup tight end Michael Palmer there.

The Steelers needed a game like this.

"I've never seen anything like that," said center Maurkice Pouncey of the momentum swing at the end of the first half. “It was exciting. There’s up and down in every football game. Every team slips up at some point and the other team takes advantage of it. That’s what happened.”

All too often in recent years, it seemed like it was the Steelers who had been on the wrong end of those kind of things. But not on this night.

@ You've got to hand it to defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau. He'll do the unexpected at times to get results.

LeBeau had the Steelers play a lot of nickel defense in this game. And early on, when Arian Foster ran for 59 yards on his first five carries, it was looking like folly.

But LeBeau kept shifting and changing, mixing in the base defense at times, even when the Texans stayed with three-wide receiver sets, forcing the Texans to do what he wanted them to do at times.

"That was coach LeBeau's strategy," said Timmons.

It seemed to have worked. After averaging more than 10 yards per carry on the opening drive, Foster had 43 yards on his final 15 attempts.

@ The Steelers also mixed things up at wide receiver.

Justin Brown, who had been the No. 3 receiver in the first six games, was inactive for this one. Rookie Martavis Bryant was active for the first time and caught two passes for 40 yards, including a 35-yard touchdown that started the ball rolling for the Steelers.

Markus Wheaton, who had just four receptions for 33 yards on 11 targets last week in a loss to the Browns, had just two passes thrown his way this week and failed to record a catch.

And the Steelers were taking Wheaton off the field at times on third down, along with Lance Moore, to replace them with Bryant and Darrius Heyward-Bey, a pair of speedsters.

That opened things up underneath for Le'Veon Bell, who was getting one-on-one coverage against a linebacker. He won and won a lot, catching eight passes for 88 yards.

In fact, it was a big play by Bell, a 43-yard catch-and-run working against Brian Cushing, that got the Steelers out of their own end on third-and-10 from the 14 to set up their first field goal.

"He won versus a linebacker, and we not only converted the third down, but we flipped the field," said Tomlin. "I think that provided the type of emotion this group needed."

@ It wasn't just the emotion that the Steelers needed, but the home crowd needed as well. To that point, the offense had done little, and facing a third-and-10 deep in their own territory and down 13-0, the season could have hinged on that play.

The crowd, which had already been booing the Steelers, was looking for an excuse to completely let loose. But Bell didn't let it.

@ At 4-3, the Steelers now find themselves one game out of first place in the AFC North. And with Cincinnati (3-2-1) hosting Baltimore (5-2) this week, somebody is going to be handed a loss.

Then, the Steelers host the Ravens to close out this three-game stretch at home.

That's just one reason why this game was so important.

But it also gives them a much-needed tiebreaker over an AFC team that could very well be in wildcard contention at the end of the season.

@ How about the throw by Roethlisberger and the catch by Antonio Brown along the sideline from midfield after Houston had kicked a field goal to pull within 24-16?

Those are the kind of plays you need from your stars to close out games.

Brown later had a touchdown overturned. It was close and I don't know that there was enough evidence to overturn the original ruling, but this officiating crew - which had earlier botched an obvious down-by-contact call against Moore - believes it found some and overturned the call.

@ Don't look now, but that's two games in a row that Mike Mitchell has provided the Steelers with some big plays in the secondary.

That was lost in the wash during last week's 31-10 loss at Cleveland, but his forced fumble that was recovered by Troy Polamalu was big in this one - especially after Houston scored a late touchdown.

Mitchell's forced fumble allowed the Steelers to run some clock and make it a two-touchdown game.

@ Timmons said he over-hydrated, which led to him spewing on the field in the second quarter.

He also said he took a foot to the gut, which didn't help.

But the Steelers' defense came up with a big stop that forced a field goal after Timmons vomited, and then the team exploded for 24 points.

I don't know if Timmons is superstitious, but if he is, he might want to repeat that every week. Just don't make me watch.


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