By Elwyn Henderson
The 1-2 Houston Texans hosted the 2-1 Pittsburgh Steelers Sunday at NRG in Houston on a special day for Texans fans as former 3-time Defensive Player of the year and 5-time Pro Bowl participant JJ Watt went into the Texans Ring of Honor at halftime. He joined Texans founder Bob McNair and wide receiver Andre Johnson in the exclusive class.
The event was even more special for JJ as his brother TJ who is a linebacker for the Steelers and his entire family was at the game. And to top it off, it was Texas Legends Homecoming Weekend, and a number of JJ’s former teammates were in attendance for the special halftime event.
The coin toss was won by Pittsburgh and they elected to defer to the second half. Chris Boswell kicked the ball away to get the fray started and following a return out to the 31 the Texans began their first possession of the day.
CJ Stroud led the offense down the field methodically mixing the run and the pass, and the drive ended when Stroud hit Nico Collins from two yards out for the TD with 8:55 left in the first quarter. Ka’Imi Fairbairn added the PAT and Houston led 7-0. The drive was 12 plays, 69 yards and took 6:05.
Fairbairn’s ensuing kickoff was returned to the 19 and Kenny Pickett led the Steelers offensive unit on the field for their first possession of the day.
Steven Nelson intercepted Pickett at the Houston 27 and returned the pick to midfield, sending Stroud and company back on the offensive.
Houston moved down to the Steelers 18, and on a 4th and 6 Fairbairn booted a 36-yard field goal to give the Texans a 10-0 lead with 1:20 left in the first quarter. The drive was 9 plays, 27 yards and took 3:26.
Following a touchback on the kick after the score, Pickett brought his unit back on the field at their 25. It was a quick three-and-out forced by the Houston defense, and following a Brad Wing punt, the Texans were back in business again on offense at their 32 as the second quarter began.
Stroud drove the team down to the Pitt 20, and Fairbairn nailed a 38-yard field goal with 12:09 left in the half, putting the Texans up 13-0. The drive was 7 plays, 48 yards and took 2:43 off the clock.
The Steelers began their next drive at their 21 following a return of Fairbairn’s kickoff. The Houston defense came on strong once again, forcing another three-and-out. Wing’s punt went out of bounds at the Houston 33 and Stroud and the offense went back to work again following the 44-yard punt.
They moved the ball down to the Steelers 32, but a hurried pass by Stroud as he was about to be tackled fell incomplete on a 4th and 1and the ball turned over on downs to Pittsburgh. After picking up one first down, the Texans defense forced another punt. Wing’s punt went into the end zone and Houston got the ball back at their 20.
After managing to move the ball out to the 40, Ty Zentner punted the ball and following a short return the visitors got the ball back at their 15 and began with 1:57 left in the first half.
Pickett led his unit to one first down but the Houston defense shut the door on the next series and Wing punted the ball away. Tank Dell took the kick at the 9 and returned it out to the 22 and Houston was in business one last time in the half with 41 seconds to see if they could get downfield quickly and pad their lead going into the locker room.
Stroud threaded the needle on the first play of the possession with a strike to Collins down to the Pitt 31. He followed that up with a pass down to the 21 and with 4 seconds left Fairbairn came in to try a 39-yard field goal on the last play of the half. The kick was good and the Texans led 16-0 at the break.
The halftime Ring of Honor induction ceremony for JJ Watt was an awesome event to experience, and it was probably one of a handful of the most historic events in the history of the team. It was a special moment in time for everyone at the game.
Fairbiarn’s kickoff to begin the second half went out of the end zone and Pickett led his offense on the field at the 25 to begin their first possession of the second half.
It was apparent on the drive that the Steelers made some major halftime adjustments, as they moved the ball down the field before Houston forced a 35-yard Chris Boswell field goal attempt. The kick was good and Pittsburgh finally got on the scoreboard but still trailed
16-3 with 9:31 left in the third quarter. The drive was 10 plays, 58 yards and took 5:29.
Even though it was just a field goal, the score fired up the Pittsburg defense and they forced a three-and-out. Zentner’s punt was a meager 38 yards and following a short return the visitors set up with a first down at the Houston 46.
Pickett led the team down the field and the Texan defense stiffened at the last possible moment, forcing a 23-yard Boswell field goal with 5:47 left in the third quarter, pulling Pittsburgh’s deficit to 16-6. The drive was 7 plays, 41 yards and consumed 2:53.
Houston picked up one first down on their next possession before punting the ball away on fourth down on the next series.
Pittsburgh, with momentum having swung their way on their previous two possessions, moved the ball down the field, but on a 4th and 1 Pickett was dropped for a 9-yard loss and the Texans took over on downs.
Houston took advantage and scored on the possession on a 6-yard pass from running back Devin Singletary who took the handoff from Stroud to Dalton Schultz with 10:50 left on the game. Fairbairn added the extra point and the Houston lead advanced to 23-6. The drive was 10 plays, 58 yards and took 5:20.
Following the TD, the Houston defense rose to the occasion and forced a three-and-out on the ensuing Steelers possession. Following a punt and a fair catch by Tank Dell the Texans went back on the offensive at their 14.
Stroud led the offense to perfection and the drive ended when he hit Collins on a 52-yard TD pass with 3:39 left in the game. Fairbairn nailed the point after and the Texans guaranteed themselves the victory, leading 30-6.
Pittsburgh got the ball back one last time but couldn’t get anything going and the Texans moved to 2-2 on the season with the 30-6 victory.
A very happy Coach DeMeco Ryans faced the media after the big win and was asked what it was like to get the first home win since 2021 and the first back-to-back wins since 2021.
“It feels awesome to get a win. That’s what we’re here to do. Me coming here taking this job, that’s how we want to play football. We want to play winning football, and it starts with the guys in that locker room. I’m proud of what they’ve done, the work that they’ve put in throughout the week, right? We’re grinding through some hot days here in Houston. Nobody is complaining. Everybody is working pressing forward doing what they need to do to get results on Sunday, and I’m proud of our guys, proud of our staff, everybody, right? If we keep playing the way we’re playing, the results will come. We’re not focused on the results. We’re just focused on the process. If we keep that mindset, it will all take care of itself.”
The Mirror asked Ryans his thoughts on former teammate JJ Watt going into the Texans Ring of Honor at halftime of the game.
“With J.J. Watt, credit to J.J., his career and what he has done. Excited for him. A huge honor for his name to go up in the rafters of the stadium. It’s got to be an inspiration to a lot of people when they look up and see his name. It’s well-deserved. J.J., great man, great player. Just an inspiration to many. Congratulations to J.J. He definitely deserves it, and it was great seeing all the former guys here today rooting us on.”
Quarterback CJ Stroud also held a presser after the big win and he was asked how he would describe what he has been able to do in his first four games in the NFL.
“That’s a great question. I think just for me it’s been the ability to be in a city like Houston that I felt God put me here for a reason. I start all glory goes to Him. I think it started all the way back from my [top] 30 visit when I came and sat right in this area, and I poured my heart out to the coaches. They poured their hearts out to me, let me know what they wanted from a quarterback or if they were going to take one, and I gave them what I felt I was. Every day I feel like God has gave me the ability to show up with that mentality and attitude every day. So it’s been a blessing. I think it’s really cool when you see your work pay off a little bit, but for me it’s just the beginning. I still think I left a lot out on the field today. Could have played better in the red zone. For me, of course, I always want to snip that in the butt and get back to work. It definitely does feel good to work really hard and see it pay off. For me it’s just the beginning, and I’m super blessed.”
The Mirror asked Stroud with the team getting to 2-2 and tied with the other three teams in the AFC South if he felt the Texans had as good a chance as any of the other teams to win the division this year.
“Yeah, when I was at Ohio State, we used to say Buckeyes against the world. Now I’m bringing that swag here: Texans against the world. It is not about what they write about us. It’s about what we put on the field on Sundays, the work we put in. There’s a lot of football to be played still, but we’re going to walk around with that swag. We know what we can do. We’re getting a lot of guys back from injury, which is going to help a lot. For us, man, we’re going to keep fighting, keep battling every game, every day, every little thing, we’re going to keep battling. It’s just the beginning, and we’re just getting started. Excited for the future. Go Texans. God bless y’all.”
Houston hits the road next Sunday when they travel to Atlanta to take on the Falcons before returning to NRG Stadium on October 15th to host the New Orleans Saints in a noon contest.