HOUSTON -- Things could be worse for the Steelers than the 17-10 drubbing they took from the Houston Texans Sunday at Reliant Stadium to fall to 2-2 after the first month of the season.
They could lose their quarterback for a while.
Ben Roethlisberger limped out of the locker room with a boot on his left foot, and there was concern it might be broken. X-rays were not immediately revealed and Roethlisberger said he was unaware if it was broken.
"I don't know," Roethlisberger said of the prospect of playing against Tennessee Sunday at Heinz Field. "You know me, if I can be out there I'm going to be out there. That's so for next week, too."
Roethlisberger played through a broken bone in his right foot last season without missing a game and said he is prepared to do it again if necessary.
"I casted up my foot for the last half of the year, so if we have to do it, I'll do it."
It's a wonder Roethlisberger did not break his neck as he came under a heavy pass rush from the Texans. He was sacked five times, hit on others and forced to scramble away from pressure on most plays.
Despite all of that, Roethlisberger (16 of 30, one interception) guided the Steelers from a 10-0 halftime deficit to a 10-10 tie on Rashard Mendenhall's 3-yard touchdown run in the third quarter and on Shaun Suisham's 26-yard field goal on the first play of the fourth quarter.
But then the Texans gouged the Steelers on one final run, a 42-yarder around right end by Arian Foster in the fourth quarter for the winner. Nobody was near him after a rushing LaMarr Woodley missed a potential tackle when he grasped at him in the backfield.
It was the final injustice done in this game to a once-proud run defense. The Texans, as the Ravens did in the opener, trampled them. Foster amassed 155 yards on 30 carries as Houston finished with 180 yards rushing and a 5.1-yard average per rush.
The Steelers had allowed just one 100-yard rusher against them in 50 games entering this season, and now they've allowed two in four games.
"We played like garbage. Period," linebacker James Harrison said. "We stink."
Steelers running back Rashard Mendenhall had 9 carries for 25 yards before he left in the second half with a hamstring injury. They finished with 118 yards on 22 carries.
The game wound up closer than it might have been had the Texans not lost two touchdowns on penalties (a blocked field goal return and an interception return), plus a Roethlisberger fumble and a 27-yard pass completion.
Unlike their 35-7 opening loss at Baltimore, the Steelers could not blame turnovers for this one. Once again, their defense not only was roughed up but it failed to produce a turnover for the third time in four games. The only offensive turnover came when Roethlisberger was intercepted on a deep pass with 10 seconds left.
Houston also did not dominate in total yards, managing just 318-296 for the Steelers. But the domination overall was there, and it started from the get-go.
"We gave up too many rushing yards early on," Woodley said. "They had success running the ball and they continued to run the ball."
The Texans ran it 12 times for 63 yards on an opening 95-yard drive that consumed 19 plays and five seconds short of the first 11 minutes of the game.
Matt Schaub (14 of 21, 138 yards, no sacks) threw a 1-yard pass to tight end Joel Dreessen, who was wide open in the end zone after a play-action fake on first down.
That used to be the way the Steelers would open games on offense, with drives like that. It certainly wasn't the kind of defense they've been playing in recent years -- until this one.
Houston took a 10-0 lead on Neil Rackers' 25-yard field goal that ended a 12-play, 60-yard drive and nearly won it by halftime.
Lining up for a 30-yard field goal with seven seconds left in the half, Suisham had his attempt blocked by Houston's Danieal Manning. Jonathan Joseph scooped up the ball and returned it 60 yards for an apparent touchdown. But a penalty was called against Houston for blocking in the back on the return, wiping it out and ending the half.
The Steelers came out running in the third quarter and did a good job of it, tied up the game and looked as though they might do the previous week's comeback victory at Indianapolis one better. But less than three minutes after Suisham's tying field goal, Foster nailed them with his 42-yard touchdown run.
The Steelers had one, good, final chance to tie it after Antonio Brown returned a punt 33 yards to the Houston 48 with 3:33 left.
The next four plays were duds -- a short incomplete pass to Hines Ward, a 3-yard scramble by Roethlisberger and two incomplete passes that were each tipped.
And that scramble may have been the play on which Roethlisberger was injured.
"We've got some work to do," Steelers coach Mike Tomlin said. "It's not anything mystical. We will remain together."
They can only hope that includes their starting quarterback.
For more on the Steelers, read the blog, Ed Bouchette on the Steelers at www.post-gazette.com/plus . Ed Bouchette: firstname.lastname@example.org and Twitter @EdBouchette. First Published October 3, 2011 4:00 AM