PITTSBURGH (AP)—Gary Kubiak did what football fans always beg coaches to do: He went for it in a key short-yardage situation. The problem was the Houston Texans didn’t get it—and, just like that, their chances of beating the Pittsburgh Steelers all but evaporated.
The Texans lost a gamble, a challenge and, likely, their opener in the first five minutes of the season. Willie Parker ran for 138 yards and three touchdowns during a 38-17 Steelers victory Sunday that was effectively over early in the second quarter.
“We got our tail kicked,” Kubiak said. “We got manhandled.”
The Steelers won their sixth consecutive opener, the NFL’s longest streak since Miami won 11 in a row from 1992-2002.
For one game, it seemed like a replay of the Steelers’ Super Bowl-winning season of three years ago.
Parker showed no loss of speed or cutback ability resulting from the broken right leg that ended his 2007 season in the Steelers’ next-to-last game, when he was leading the NFL in rushing. Ben Roethlisberger missed on only one of 14 passing attempts until being lifted after three quarters.
For the Texans, the first game of a season full of hope—the 2002 expansion franchise went 8-8 for the first time last year and won three of its final four — quickly fell apart after Kubiak went for it on fourth-and-1 from the Steelers’ 48 on the game’s opening drive.
“That turned out to be the big play,” Steelers linebacker James Farrior said.
Quarterback Matt Schaub leaned into the line and appeared to have gained the needed yard despite colliding with 350-pound nose tackle Casey Hampton, and referee Terry McAulay signaled a first down. But the ball was inches short when measured, and the ruling was upheld upon replay after Houston challenged.
“The thing I was disappointed in is the referee signaled first down twice. And then the guy on the side came in and spotted the ball. That was my beef,” Kubiak said. “I said, ‘Terry, you signaled first down. So what happened between that and spotting the ball?’ “
Kubiak was immediately subjected to second-guessing, from the coach himself.
“I felt good being aggressive right there, because I preach to our football team to be aggressive,” Kubiak said. “After that it just kind of snowballed. … It’s disappointing, but I need to start with myself.”
The Steelers, getting the ball at nearly midfield after the failed gamble, needed eight plays to score on Parker’s 7-yard run.
On Pittsburgh’s next possession, an apparent 75-yard Roethlisberger-to-Ward scoring pass was waved off when Ward was called for pass interference. Roethlisberger came back four plays later to hit Ward for 29 yards to the Texans’ 34, and Parker later scored from the 13.
“People were wondering, maybe even some of his teammates, how he was going to come back from a leg injury like that,” Roethlisberger said. “It was fun to watch Willie Parker be Willie Parker.”
Parker’s three TD runs were a career high. He ran for two touchdowns last season despite having 1,316 yards rushing.
“This team knows I’ll do anything to be the goal-line back,” Parker said. “That’s part of being a running back.”
Steelers linebacker LaMarr Woodley’s interception led to Roethlisberger’s 13-yard scoring pass to Ward for a 21-0 lead with nine minutes remaining in the second quarter. Parker added a 4-yard TD run on a toss play in the third quarter.
“It was embarrassing,” the Texans’ Travis Johnson said.
Houston didn’t get into the end zone until a 14-yard Schaub-to-Kevin Walter pass with nine minutes to go. Schaub was 25-of-33 for 202 yards and a TD run with 1:14 left, and Andre Johnson made 10 catches for 112 yards.
“I’m very shocked. I thought we were ready to go,” defensive lineman Jeff Zgonina said
Roethlisberger has eight TD passes in three season openers. He is 40-16 as a starter. … Houston DE Mario Williams, coming off a 14-sack season, had both of Houston’s sacks and a forced fumble, all before halftime. … The Steelers had two interceptions after making a league-low 11 in 2007. They also recovered a fumble. … Woodley recovered a fumble and had a sack in his first career start.