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Well, maybe, but a 17-17 score might have changed the complexion of the game. There was no reason for Houston still to have been in the hunt after three quarters. The Oilers' big weapon, Campbell, had been totally nullified. At the half his total output was two yards, and his 11 carries represented the entire Oiler rushing attack. He said the groin pull that had kept him out of the previous week's game at San Diego didn't bother him against Pittsburgh. "I never felt faster," he said. "The traction was good—the ground crew did a good job getting the field in shape. The problem was the Steelers. They never let me get started."
The Steeler linemen shot the gaps and committed themselves to Campbell early, and the Steeler linebackers came across quickly and cut off his escape routes. No one will ever know for sure whether or not Campbell's groin pull was bothering him, because he had Steelers in his face before he could get the motor revved up. Pittsburgh figured if anyone was going to beat them, it would have to be Pastorini, who also had missed the San Diego game because of a groin pull.
Pastorini kept things lively. A pulled muscle deprived him of his best long-ball threat, Ken Burrough, late in the first quarter. "I stayed in for a few plays and tried to be a decoy," Burrough said, "but you don't fool the Steelers like that." So Pastorini worked the ball to his backs and to Renfro, and he hung in the pocket and took some ferocious shots.
The Oilers were outmanned in every phase of the game. Punting. Punt returns—Ellender had been ruled a "definite out" with a chipped hipbone, but somehow he managed to play, though he shouldn't have. The Oilers had no running attack, a sore quarterback, no Ken Burrough. But it was still a four-point game in the fourth quarter.
It was a courageous performance by Houston—the whole Oiler operation is built on courage—but in the end it was the professionalism of the Steelers that won it. They shrugged off a 75-yard interception return TD by Houston Safety Vernon Perry, who had cut in front of Tight End Bennie Cunningham on a curl pattern, on their first series. They never lost their poise, and in the fourth quarter they made those two scoring drives.
The Steeler game plan was to throw on the first down off play-action stuff and run the ball in passing situations when the Oilers lifted two of their four linebackers. Terry Bradshaw picked up 78 of his 219 yards passing on first downs, including a 20-yard touchdown to John Stallworth that put the Steelers ahead 17-10. The play that set up the Stallworth TD was a 12-yard run by Franco Harris on third-and-five.
The Steelers kept the Oilers' defense on the field too long; when the score was 7-3 for Houston, the Steelers had run off 20 plays to the Oilers' three. At halftime the margin was 43-20. But the Oilers never cracked. They made Pittsburgh come up with big plays to win it—a 21-yard pass to Swann on third-and-21 in the fourth quarter, a 20-yard diving catch by Bleier on third-and-two on the next series.
"Another huddle," Courson said, shaking his head. "I thought we saw enough of 'em today."