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Beating Steelers proves Texans won't be pushed around anymore

by | CBSSports.com National NFL Insider
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HOUSTON -- This is the reputation of the Texans: soft ... unable to finish ... frontrunners ... chumps ... the mental toughness of a Krispy Kreme donut.

Last week against New Orleans, the Texans lived down to that reputation yet again when they g-g -- gagged away a game late to New Orleans. Same. Old. Texans. So we thought.

Then, as often happens in the NFL, a week passes, and a single game changes an opinion, changes a belief system and maybe changes a season. Maybe, just maybe, after Houston's inspirational 17-10 body-bag type win over Pittsburgh, we might have to re-think the Texans as something other than contenders to win a pillow fight.

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No, it's not time to award Houston the Larry Csonka Tough Man Award. Not a large enough body of work to do that but this was still impressive. Particularly since in the first half the Texans lost their star receiver, Andre Johnson, to what coach Gary Kubiak called a "hamstring-related" injury. One team source described the injury as "very tricky" and said he expected Johnson to miss at least this coming week and probably more though he added Johnson is a fast healer.

Johnson went down "like he just got shot," said Kubiak and there was a clear deflation of the crowd at Reliant Stadium, and the Texans' players looked just as stunned. This would have been a good time for the Texans -- more to their character -- to pull up the beach chairs and fold into pieces. Instead, Arian Foster shredded an old and slow Pittsburgh defense for 155 yards and a score on 30 carries. He gutted it out on a bad hamstring.

"We showed some toughness as a group," Kubiak said.

That's an understatement. They beat the Steelers at their own game.

It was a nasty contest that included a variety of injuries and huge hits ... particularly to Ben Roethlisberger, who continues to take a beating and suffered a sprained ankle in the game. What was crucial was how the Texans responded to both the physicality and the moments after the Steelers would apply both muscle and mental pressure. Each time Pittsburgh threatened either with a big hit or a score, the Texans returned with their own swift kick to the sternum. It was glorious to watch them not back down one iota.

The emphasis in practices and meetings all week in Houston was to be physical and avoid another New Orleans-type collapse. Mission accomplished. Once the game began they set the tone with a touchdown drive that went 95 yards in 19 plays and lasted a franchise record 10 minutes and 55 seconds. The Steelers looked both befuddled and –- dare I say it -– intimidated. The Texans were blasting them, pushing the line back, and showing meanness. Meanness and the Texans in the same sentence. Imagine that.

When the Steelers tied the game at 10 early in the fourth quarter the Texans responded with an 85-yard play that included a Foster 42-yard score.

"When you're a good team, that's how you respond," Houston quarterback Matt Schaub said.

Defensively for Houston, what they did to Pittsburgh on the Steelers' next three drives was something that's rarely happened to them during the Mike Tomlin/Roethlislberger era. The first drive was three and out. The second, Pittsburgh got one first down. The third, three and out. On those drives Roethlisberger was sacked a total of three times and completed only 1 of 6 passes.

Now, let's not get too carried away. The Texans shouldn't be portrayed as The Justice League with Foster as Superman and Johnson as the Green Lantern. But Texans defensive lineman Antonio Smith has a fair point. He said the Texans now have meanness and swagger. Meanness is not something that can be injected or constructed in a weight room. It's earned by beating champions like the Steelers. It's garnered by standing tall after a punch in the mouth.

"The attitude has changed," Smith said. "When we're out there, we believe we can get the job done."

The Texans get the job done by being tough. What's the world coming to?

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