For openers, it was a dominating outing, but the players aren't overly excited by the win
Monday, September 08, 2008
By Ed Bouchette, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
Peter Diana / Post-Gazette
Steelers linebacker LaMarr Woodley, right, celebrates his interception against the Texans with defensive end Brett Keisel yesterday at Heinz Field. The interception was the first of Woodley's career.
The Steelers have become accustomed to winning season openers, yet rarely have they been so dominant in claiming their sixth consecutive opener by clubbing the Houston Texans, 38-17, at Heinz Field.
They weren't perfect -- Ben Roethlisberger did throw one incompletion in his 14 pass attempts -- but their play yesterday rivaled the gorgeous weather that greeted their first game of the season.
"A beautiful day," Steelers coach Mike Tomlin said, describing the weather and his team's play.
"We're a good team, you know?" defensive end Brett Keisel said. "But I don't think anyone in here is going, 'Oh, yeah, we're so great, we got this big win!' All of us understand the schedule this year and all of us understand after each game we have another tough opponent ahead."
That would be the Browns in Cleveland Sunday night, but for now the Steelers should feel good about reveling a little in the game they played to open the season.
Willie Parker, whose last season ended with a broken leg in game 15, showed off his renewed health and old form by rushing for 138 yards and three touchdowns on runs of 7, 13 and 4 yards, the most in his career and one more score than he had all of last year.
Roethlisberger tossed touchdown passes to Hines Ward of 13 and 16 yards. Linebacker James Harrison got a jump on another Pro Bowl season with three sacks, and his new colleague on the other side, LaMarr Woodley, had a sack, an interception and a fumble recovery.
The Steelers led, 35-3, into the fourth quarter. Neither Roethlisberger nor Parker played in the final quarter.
"We're not going to overreact," said Ward, who led the Steelers with six receptions for 76 yards and had a long reception taken away by a penalty. "It's one game. We have a big game in Cleveland, prime time. We'll enjoy this, look at it and get ready for Cleveland next week."
After Keisel and Casey Hampton stopped Houston quarterback Matt Schaub's sneak on fourth-and-1 at the Steelers' 48 on the game's first series, it was virtually all the home team until the fourth quarter.
The Steelers scored touchdowns on their first three series: Parker scored twice and a Roethlisberger-to-Ward pass made it 21-0 after Woodley one-handed an interception and returned it 6 yards to the Houston 32.
It was Woodley's first interception -- pro, college, high school, midget -- in his first NFL start.
"So far, so good," said the new left outside linebacker. "You have to bring the same attitude every week."
The only trouble Roethlisberger had on a day in which he posted his best completion percentage and a 147 passer rating came from Houston defensive end Mario Williams, who sacked him twice. The first came in the second quarter from the Houston 32 after Troy Polamalu's interception.
Williams, second in the AFC with 13 sacks in 2007, hit Roethlisberger from behind and stripped the ball. Linebacker DeMeco Ryans returned the fumble to the Steelers' 12, counting the 12 yards tacked on because Parker tackled him by the facemask.
Such was the play of the Steelers' defense yesterday, though, that the line of scrimmage moved back to the 16 by the time Kris Brown kicked a 34-yard field goal.
"We really didn't stop ourselves," Roethlisberger said. "We had two sacks, small things, a little thing here, a little there. Nothing big. I don't think we made a lot of mistakes and we didn't kill ourselves."
Schaub completed a high percentage of his passes, going 25 of 33 for 202 yards. But he was sacked five times for 43 yards in losses and threw two interceptions. He threw a touchdown pass in the fourth quarter to Kevin Walter and ran for another.
Rookie Steve Slaton from West Virginia University led a pitiful Texans ground game (75 yards) with 43 yards on 13 carries.
Even the Steelers infamous coverage teams contained Andre Davis, who returned three kickoffs for touchdowns last season. Davis averaged only 18.7 yards on six kickoff returns and Jacoby Jones returned two punts for 5 yards.
"I think that we played a good game in virtually all three phases," Tomlin said. "It was not perfect, but I liked the energy and enthusiasm from the people who went out and made plays for this football team."
Parker ran inside and out, with a long run of 32 yards. He showed he had returned to form this summer, but there's nothing like doing it when they unveil a new season officially.
"I just wanted to get back out there and just play," Parker said. "It seems like it's been a long time coming. It seems like I've been waiting forever."
His 22nd 100-yard game was worth it.
"It was fun to watch him run," Roethlisberger said. "I get caught sometimes not carrying out my fakes because I want to turn around and see him make guys miss. He had a great one along the sideline today. It's fun to watch Willie Parker be Willie Parker."
Roethlisberger and Parker got to watch in the fourth quarter when Byron Leftwich finished up at quarterback and Rashard Mendenhall at halfback. Leftwich was 0 for 4 passing but Nate Washington nearly came down with one on-target deep toss before dropping it. Mendenhall ran 10 times for 28 yards.
"I'm happy with the way we played but I'm not too excited," said Keisel, expressing the general consensus among his teammates. "I thought we should have won this game before we started."
They practically did.
Ed Bouchette can be reached at [email="email@example.com"]firstname.lastname@example.org[/email].