PITTSBURGH -- No NFL team ever played worse offensively and won. What made the difference was very few teams -- much less an expansion one -- have played a game like this defensively.
|Texans cornerback Kenny Wright returns a Tommy Maddox fumble for a score, one of three defensive TDs.(AP)|
The Steelers (7-5-1) were 6-1-1 in their previous eight games, the NFL's best record over that span except for Atlanta's 7-0-1, yet lost to a first-year team that completed only three passes and had only three first downs. The Texans were outgained 422-47, the fewest yards ever by a winning team in NFL history.
"To hold a team to 40-some yards, that's incredible," Steelers tackle Wayne Gandy said. "But to get 400 and some yards and still lose? I've never heard of such a game."
Remarkably, the Steelers lost to an expansion team in its first season of existence for the third time since 1995. The Steelers lost to Cleveland 16-15 in 1999, only weeks after beating the Browns 43-0, and to expansion Jacksonville in 1995.
"We're not the typical expansion team," Glenn said. "We're not going to lay down and say, 'Oh, we're not supposed to win, we're an expansion team.' We have nothing to lose, we're trying to be a spoiler."
Pittsburgh's unexpected loss and Cleveland's last-play 21-20 win at Jacksonville cut the Steelers' AFC North lead over the Browns to a half-game.
"To come into Pittsburgh in December and play a first-place team is not an easy task," said Houston coach Dom Capers, a former Steelers defensive coordinator. "This was our best defensive game. They stifled us, but we talked all week the No. 1 thing was we had to take the ball away."
Maddox couldn't have had a much worse day in his first game since being briefly paralyzed by a hit Nov. 17 in Tennessee, despite throwing for 325 yards. His fumble was returned 40 yards for a touchdown by Kenny Wright on Pittsburgh's first possession, and Glenn's 70-yard interception return for a TD the next time the Steelers had the ball made it 14-0.
Later, after the Steelers couldn't turn a Jabar Gaffney fumbled punt in the fourth quarter into any points, Glenn sealed it with a 65-yard interception return touchdown -- the fifth of his career.
"This game was as simple as three plays," Maddox said. "False starts, holding penalties, they don't kill you. What kills you is turning the ball over and giving them touchdowns."
The Steelers have eight turnovers in Maddox's last two starts, and coach Bill Cowher said of his performance, "It wasn't very good."
But he didn't put in Kordell Stewart, who led Pittsburgh to victories in its previous two games, and didn't say whether Stewart could start next week against Carolina.
All of Houston's points came on defense or special teams. Former Steelers kicker Kris Brown kicked a 43-yard field goal that made it 17-6 after Antwaan Randle El also fumbled away a punt in the fourth quarter.
"They didn't even try to test us," Steelers safety Brent Alexander said. "Their quarterback was sacked more times (four) than he completed passes (three). We stopped them, and still they continued to try to run. It was almost like they were waving the white flag."
Quarterback David Carr agreed, saying, "I have mixed feelings right now; we won 24-6 but we didn't do anything. We were playing not to lose."
The Texans (4-9), who also upset the Giants two weeks ago, have become accustomed to generating little offense -- they came into the game with only 16 touchdowns -- but this was dismal even by expansion standards.
The offense crossed midfield only once until Randle El's fumble, and then only because of a penalty. Carr had so little time to throw he barely bothered, going 3-of-10 for 33 yards.
Jonathan Wells ran 10 times for 12 yards; James Allen gained 19 yards on 13 carries.
Jeff Reed kicked field goals of 40 and 31 yards, but missed a 43-yarder that would have made it 14-9 following Gaffney's fumble at the Texans' 25 with 8½ minutes remaining.
- The Steelers led 24-3 in first downs.
- Gandy left in the fourth quarter with a calf injury that required a postgame MRI.
- Hines Ward's nine catches gave him a team-record 98, four more than his 94 of last season.
- Gaffney was in the game only because Jermaine Lewis left with a sprained ankle.
- Carr has been sacked 68 times, four short of Randall Cunningham's record 72 for Philadelphia in 1986.
The Associated Press News Service
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