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Monday October 3rd, 2011

Arian Foster showed no ill effects from the hamstring injury that kept him out of the season's first three games. (AP)

Texans 17, Steelers 10: Box Score | Recap

We really didn't learn anything new about the Steelers on Sunday. Pittsburgh's offensive line is still a total disaster, Ben Roethlisberger is still a high-risk/high-reward type of QB and the defense still does enough to keep the team alive.

But we might have found out something critically important about the Texans: When Arian Foster is healthy and in the lineup, Houston could be the dangerous, playoff-worthy team everyone thought it might be.

For a good while in the second half, it sure felt like Houston was on its way to another soul-crushing collapse -- the type of loss the Texans have suffered time and again over the past several season. Sunday, Houston had a 10-0 halftime lead but should have been up at least 17-0, maybe more.

So, when the Steelers kicked a field goal to knot it at 10 early in the fourth quarter, Houston fans had to be feeling uneasy, to say the least.

Foster made sure they had no reason to worry.

After Pittsburgh's game-tying kick, Houston needed just five plays to answer. Matt Schaub and Owen Daniels connected on two key passes, then Foster burst through the Steelers' defense for a 43-yard touchdown.

The Texans, by pressuring Roethlisberger through Pittsburgh's sieve-like line, made that score stand up. Foster finished with 155 yards on 30 carries.

Houston has a seemingly endless amount of serviceable running backs, including Ben Tate, who rushed for 301 yards over the first three weeks of the season. In a pinch, with Foster on the sideline, Tate can step in and keep Houston's offense going. The Texans' zone-blocking scheme almost guarantees that they'll gain yards on the ground, no matter the running back situation.

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Foster adds a different dimension. He's a home run threat whenever he touches the ball, a guy that Houston can give the ball to over and over again when the game is on the line.

One week ago, we were talking about how Houston still could not get it done in the clutch after the Texans fell apart late in a loss to New Orleans. There is still a long way to go in this season and Houston's biggest challenge is closing things out with a playoff berth.

But that old Houston image? That one of the Texans being just good enough to fall short when it counted? Gone, for at least a week.

Sure, the Steelers are a mess right now -- Roethlisberger's chances of making it through the season without a serious injury look more and more remote each week. He almost suffered a major knee injury late in the fourth quarter, when Houston's J.J. Watt hit him low. Rashard Mendenhall left with an injury after another uninspiring effort. James Harrison hurt his eye in the first half.

It's a battered and bruised Pittsburgh team that, for the moment, is a shell of its AFC title self from last season.

Houston shouldn't care. Anytime you can knock off a team like the Steelers, it's bound to be a confidence booster. And that's especially true when you do it as Houston did Sunday -- by playing a tough and physical game that relies on the ground game.

Foster made sure that Houston could do that against Pittsburgh. Tate is plenty capable of piling up yards if Foster has to miss anymore time as this season goes along. Having Foster in the lineup, though, puts Houston on the verge of becoming an elite team. He showed why in the fourth quarter Sunday.

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