PITTSBURGH – Houston's failed attempt to convert a fourth-and-one play from the Pittsburgh 48 on its opening drive gave any momentum the Texans hoped to gain to the Steelers.
As a result, the Steelers won their sixth-consecutive season opener, the longest current streak in the NFL.
"All in all, it was a great opening day performance as a team," said wide receiver Hines Ward, who caught six passes for 76 yards and two touchdowns.
"The defense went out there and played their tails off and, offensively, we felt like – other than the one turnover – we felt like we were sharp."
Running back Willie Parker carried the ball 25 times for 138 yards and a career-high three touchdowns, while quarterback Ben Roethlisberger was 13 of 14 for 137 yards and two touchdowns. Neither played in the fourth quarter when the Steelers milked a 35-3 lead.
Defensively, the Steelers recorded five sacks – three by outside linebacker James Harrison – and intercepted a pair of passes, one each by strong safety Troy Polamalu and linebacker LaMarr Woodley. Houston managed just 234 total yards, more than half of which came in the fourth quarter after the game had long since been decided.
"We got our tail kicked," Houston coach Gary Kubiak said. "We got manhandled."
It did not look like that would be the case early.
Houston (0-1) took the opening kickoff from its own 21 to midfield. But quarterback Matt Schaub's third-down pass from the 50 came up one-yard short of a first down and Kubiak elected to have Schaub attempt a sneak rather than punt.
The Steelers stopped Schaub for no gain and took over possession of the ball at their own 48. Eight plays later, Parker scored to give Pittsburgh a 7-0 lead it would not relinquish. Parker added a 13-yard TD run on Pittsburgh's next possession and Woodley intercepted Schaub at the Houston 32 to set up a 13-yard Roethlisberger-to-Ward scoring pass on the Steelers' third possession for a 21-0 lead.
Polamalu intercepted Schaub on Houston's next possession, but Roethlisberger was sacked by Mario Williams and fumbled. DeMeco Ryans scooped up the loose ball and returned it to the Pittsburgh 12, but the Texans couldn't get into the end zone and settled for a field goal that trimmed the lead to 21-3.
"That was big," said Kubiak. "We had two runs in a row and ended up with a third-and-15. If we get the ball in the end zone there, you go in for the half, 21-7."
Any hopes of a comeback were quashed in the third quarter when the Steelers came out in the second half and scored touchdowns on their first two possessions. Parker was especially effective in the quarter, rushing 11 times for 92 yards before sitting out the final 15 minutes along with Roethlisberger.
Houston didn't get into the end zone until Schaub threw a 14-yard TD pass to Kevin Walter pass with nine minutes to go. He added a four-yard touchdown run with 1:14 remaining, but it was too little too late.