HOUSTON (AP)—Big Ben’s left knee is doing fine. So are all the winning streaks tied to him and the Pittsburgh Steelers heading into their AFC championship game rematch with New England.
Shaking off a bruise that had him listed as questionable to even play, Ben Roethlisberger led the Steelers to a pair of touchdowns and two field goals on their first four drives en route to a 27-7 victory over the Houston Texans on Sunday.
Pittsburgh (2-0) won its 16th straight regular-season game, matching the Miami teams of 1971-73 and 1983-84 for the second-best run in league history. The record is 18, set by the Patriots and ended by the Steelers when they met last October in Pittsburgh.
New England got revenge by winning at Heinz Field in January to get to the Super Bowl. Now the Steelers are the ones talking about payback with the two-time Super Bowl champs returning to Pittsburgh on Sunday.
“I think that will be on a lot of people’s minds this week,” said running back Willie Parker, who cemented his hold on the starting job with 111 yards and a touchdown on 25 carries.
“We try to take it one game at a time, but the New England game is not really the same,” added safety Troy Polamalu, who had three of Pittsburgh’s eight sacks.
While the Patriots took some of the luster off the rematch by losing at Carolina, the Steelers kept up their end with Roethlisberger improving to 15-0 as a starter and Pittsburgh winning an eighth straight road game, one shy of the team record set in 1974-75.
“We’ve got to keep doing what we’re doing—not turning the ball over, not getting penalties and playing smart,” coach Bill Cowher said.
The Texans (0-2) knew how tough it would be to stop the Steelers, so they resorted to a 12th man of sorts: Mother Nature. They slid open their roof, hoping on-field temperatures that started above 110 and kept rising would wear down their black-jersey-wearing foes.
But Houston couldn’t slow Pittsburgh long enough for the heat and humidity to matter.
Roethlisberger showed his knee was fine by scrambling back, then forward, left and back again before hitting a 9-yard pass on his second throw of the game.
“I feel I’m better on the field than on the sidelines,” said Roethlisberger, who went 14-of-21 for 254 yards.
Roethlisberger came through every time Pittsburgh needed him.
Up 3-0, he beat a nine-man secondary on third-and-12 by hitting Hines Ward for 14 yards. They hooked up for a 16-yard touchdown a few plays later, then a 14-yard TD on the next drive.
Just before halftime, Houston’s Antwan Peek hit Roethlisberger so hard he said it left him woozy and numb on his left side. It didn’t show. On his first drive of the third quarter, Roethlisberger scrambled, then heaved a 40-yard pass across the field to Cedrick Wilson. Parker ran 10 yards for a touchdown three plays later.
Houston’s problem was an offense so lousy that fans were booing before quarterback David Carr lost a fumble—and that was on his third snap.
He finished 16-of-26 for 167 yards and a touchdown, but he gave back 59 yards on his most sacks since the team’s expansion season in 2002. He went down five times in the first half, including an 11-yarder that took Houston out of field-goal range, and on consecutive plays shortly before halftime. The game even ended with a sack.
While Carr said his linemen “fought their tails off,” Pittsburgh linebacker Joey Porter heard Carr saying otherwise.
“He was arguing with his offensive line,” Porter said. “Whenever you get a quarterback arguing with his team that’s a good sign.”
Houston’s only scoring drive came after coach Dom Capers challenged his team to “put the first half behind us and come out and fight.” They went 78 yards in 14 plays, with Domanick Davis scoring on a 3-yard catch.
After that, the Texans went for it on fourth-and-4 from the Pittsburgh 28 only to get called for delay of game. They tried anyway and Carr overthrew Corey Bradford in the end zone.
“It’s frustrating,” Carr said. “We just, for some reason, can’t get it done.”
Cowher insisted Parker will remain the starter when Jerome Bettis and Duce Staley return from injuries. “Willie Parker is going nowhere,” Cowher said. … Texans DE Gary Walker separated his left shoulder and is out indefinitely. … Roethlisberger followed last week’s perfect QB rating of 153.8 with a 139.8.