Resilient Steelers push back to right season as pivotal stretch begins



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Pittsburgh Steelers wide receiver Antonio Brown (84) tries to make a catch past Houston Texans cornerback A.J. Bouye (34) in the fourth quarter of the NFL football game against the Pittsburgh Steelers, Monday, Oct. 20, 2014, in Pittsburgh. The catch was ruled out of bounds and overturned on replay. (AP Photo/Don Wright)


Pittsburgh Steelers wide receiver Martavis Bryant (10) is greeted by quarterback Ben Roethlisberger (7) after making a touchdown catch from Roethlisberger in the second quarter of the NFL football game, Monday, Oct. 20, 2014, in Pittsburgh. (AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar)


PITTSBURGH — The bounces and big plays piled up so quickly, even the Pittsburgh Steelers were stunned.

For one glorious stretch late in the first half of Monday night's 30-23 victory against the Houston Texans, the Steelers looked like the team they've been talking about since training camp. The offense crammed three touchdowns into 73 dizzying seconds. The defense forced a pair of Houston turnovers and a season that fluctuates between hopeful and hopeless took another wild turn.

"I've never seen anything like that," running back Le'Veon Bell said.

The turnaround lifted Pittsburgh (4-3) back over .500 for the fourth time this season. The three previous triumphs, however, were quickly followed by baffling missteps. It's a pattern that needs to change if the Steelers are going to be a legitimate factor in the wide-open AFC North, where all four teams are separated by one game in the loss column.

Asked what it will take for the roller coaster to even out, quarterback Ben Roethlisberger just shrugged his shoulder.

"Just get ready to go to work and try and win," he said.

Something the Steelers have done with maddening inconsistency this fall. Yet they're hopeful they rediscovered an old familiar formula while running their winning streak at home on Monday night to 16 and counting.

Pittsburgh came in with just six takeaways on the season but collected three against the erratic Texans, all of which the offense converted into points.

The second-quarter rally gained steam when Jason Worilds forced a fumble from Arian Foster that Sean Spence recovered at the Houston 3. It hit the gas on Houston's next offensive snap, when a pass from Ryan Fitzpatrick somehow found its way into the hands of 36-year-old defensive end Brett Keisel. His 16-yard return set up Bell's 2-yard touchdown reception capped a turnaround in which a 13-point deficit morphed into a 24-13 lead.

"Once we got one turnover, we really settled own and just really started playing Steeler football," defensive end Cameron Heyward said.

Or the closest the Steelers have come to playing it this fall.

"It's not anything mystical," coach Mike Tomlin said. "I think when we are doing what it is that we are supposed to do and playing with energy, it happens."

The offense, which has struggled in the red zone all season, didn't let the good fortune go to waste. Pittsburgh converted the first two Houston turnovers into seven points, even if they did it in a decidedly unSteelerlike fashion.

Setting up at the Houston 3, Roethlisberger took the snap and flipped the ball to wide receiver Antonio Brown coming in motion from the left. Brown grabbed the ball and did a 180-degree spin back to his left before finding Lance Moore in tight coverage for a touchdown.

Tomlin took responsibility for the unorthodox call but declined to say it was out of desperation after watching the offense sputter so often when in close.

"The idea was to score and Antonio has proven to be a guy that's made plays for us, whether it's running the ball or throwing the ball," Tomlin said. "You just want to put the ball in playmakers' hands."

Monday night that included the inexperienced but perfectly capable fingers of rookie wide receiver Martavis Bryant. Stashed on the inactive list for the first six weeks behind older players, the 6-foot-4 Bryant found his way into the lineup and delivered. His first NFL reception was a 35-yard score from Roethlisberger that ignited Pittsburgh's deluge.

"It was good to make the play to have the team wake up," Bryant said.

Repeating that kind of performance has been problematic. A pivotal three-game homestand continues Sunday against streaking Indianapolis (5-2), which has won five straight behind quarterback Andrew Luck.

Still, the Steelers have momentum and a little bit of history on their side. Roethlisberger has won his last 11 home starts in October, a stretch that appeared in jeopardy before 73 seconds of perfection.

"It was not perfect, we have a lot of things to work on and move forward," Tomlin said. "It was good to do that with a win."


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