PITTSBURGH — One dizzying sequence, and the Pittsburgh Steelers were in complete control against J.J. Watt and the Houston Texans.
Ben Roethlisberger passed for two touchdowns and wide receiver Antonio Brown added another on a gadget play during a decisive surge late in the first half, helping the Steelers rally for a 30-23 win over the mistake-prone Texans on Monday night.
Pittsburgh (4-3) needed just over a minute to turn a 10-point deficit into an 11-point lead as the Texans self-destructed while losing their third straight.
Roethlisberger finished with 265 yards passing. Le’Veon Bell racked up 145 yards of total offense and rookie wide receiver Martavis Bryant caught a momentum-swinging touchdown pass in his first NFL start.
Arian Foster ran for 102 yards for Houston (3-4), but just 29 over the final three quarters. Ryan Fitzpatrick was 21 of 32 for 262 yards with two touchdowns and an interception but the Texans were undone by three turnovers.
Watt recovered a fumble and picked up his third sack of the season but was neutralized for most of the second half.
By then, the Steelers were on their way to the win.
One frantic stretch turned the tide.
Pittsburgh was listless for the first 25 minutes, letting Foster and Fitzpatrick do whatever they wanted as the Texans raced to a 13-0 lead that seemed larger.
A 44-yard Shaun Suisham field goal with 3:08 left in the half gave the Steelers a minor boost.
A strike from Roethlisberger to Bell provided a much larger one shortly after the 2-minute warning. Roethlisberger hit the versatile back for a 43-yard gain — Pittsburgh’s longest pass play of the season — to move the ball to the Houston 35.
Roethlisberger then hit Bryant, who struggled staying healthy in the preseason and spent the first six weeks on the inactive list, with a beautiful rainbow Bryant caught at the back of the end zone to make it 13-10 with 1:27 left.
The Steelers were just getting started.
Foster fumbled deep in Houston territory two plays after Bryant’s score and the Steelers recovered. Pittsburgh offensive coordinator Todd Haley, who has faced heavy criticism for his play-calling, went deep into his options to help the Steelers take the lead.
On first-and-goal, Roethlisberger flipped the ball to Brown, who was coming in motion. The Pro Bowl wide receiver then spun back around to his left and fired a strike to Lance Moore in the end zone.
Houston’s issues escalated on the next snap when Fitzpatrick’s throw over the middle was deflected into the arms of Pittsburgh defensive end Brett Keisel. The 36-year-old took the second pick of his career to the Houston 8.
Roethlisberger found Brown for a 6-yard gain and then hit Bell — who was uncovered after going in motion — for a touchdown.
The turnaround left Heinz Field euphoric and the Texans and Watt stunned.
The Steelers methodically added on in the second half, extending the lead to 14 points on a pair of Suisham field goals before a late scoring pass from Fitzpatrick to Foster provided the final margin.
The end played in stark contrast to the beginning, when the Texans controlled the line of scrimmage.
Fitzpatrick found rookie running back Alfred Blue for an 11-yard touchdown pass to end a 10-play, 94-yard drive on the Texans’ opening possession before Watt went to work.
The MVP candidate recovered a Roethlisberger fumble, leading to a 39-yard field goal by Randy Bullock that gave Houston a 10-0 lead. Watt later dropped Roethlisberger for his third sack of the year.
It was the third time this season that Watt had a fumble recovery and a sack in the same game. No other player in the NFL has more than one.
The Texans played without rookie linebacker Jadeveon Clowney, who missed his sixth straight game due to a right knee injury. Houston didn’t need Clowney to get consistent pressure on Roethlisberger, disrupting the pocket whenever he dropped back to pass.
The Steelers came in staggering after falling to Cleveland by three touchdowns. Roethlisberger stressed his team was hardly ready to panic even after the franchise’s worst loss to Cleveland in 25 years.
Maybe, but it certainly looked like it after Pittsburgh fell behind by two touchdowns. Whatever button the Steelers hit — be it panic or otherwise — worked to perfection as they began a pivotal three-game homestand with a stunningly decisive victory.