PRO FOOTBALL ’95 : Patchwork Steelers Win, 34-17

From Associated Press

The Pittsburgh Steelers didn’t need to be at full strength to defeat the Houston Oilers.

With Rod Woodson and Neil O’Donnell sidelined because of injuries, Andre Hastings returned the game’s first punt 72 yards for a touchdown and Mike Tomczak, subbing for O’Donnell, directed the Steelers to a 34-17 victory Sunday in the Astrodome.

Hastings’ return helped Pittsburgh (2-0) take a 17-3 first-half lead and the Steelers made it 24-3 in the third quarter on Fred McAfee’s 22-yard run.

With Chad Brown recording three sacks, Pittsburgh’s defense played well without cornerback Woodson, out for the season because of a knee injury.


Chris Chandler, who threw two interceptions and was sacked four times, scored the only two touchdowns for the Oilers (1-1) on runs of one and three yards in the second half.

“We just hurt ourselves today,” Houston Coach Jeff Fisher said. “When you play a team that’s played together like the Steelers for years, you can’t make mistakes like we did.”

Carnell Lake’s 32-yard interception return and Norm Johnson’s 40-yard field goal finished the scoring for the Steelers.

Tomczak filled in for O’Donnell, sidelined because of a broken finger on his passing hand, and completed 13 of 24 passes for 123 yards, including a 15-yard first-quarter touchdown pass to Mark Bruener. He also avoided being sacked.

“That’s my job, I’m a workmanlike kind of guy,” Tomczak said. “My job is to keep this train rolling. I was very optimistic coming into the game and you’d like to get off to a quick start.”

Chandler, playing despite a painful left shoulder bruise, completed 15 of 30 passes for 176 yards.


“I couldn’t throw like I wanted to, I couldn’t move around,” Chandler said. “It’s just frustrating that something like that happened initially. Hopefully, I’ll get a week when I don’t get beat up and I’ll be fine. When I went to throw, I couldn’t.”

The Steelers took quick control of the first half after Hastings got the Steelers off to a good start with his 72-yard punt return with only 1:11 elapsed in the game.

Hastings fielded the ball, ran to the left sideline and through a hole in the Oilers’ pursuit. After breaking a glancing tackle attempt by punter Rich Camarillo, he outran John Henry Mills and Barron Wortham to the goal line.

“I got a couple of big blocks to spring me down the sidelines,” Hastings said. “That set the tempo, we look at a punt return like that as the first play for the offense. All the guys have been blocking well for me and they made a few blocks to spring me around the corner.”

Houston’s only first half scoring came with 7:40 gone in the first period on Al Del Greco’s 43-yard field goal, his 13th in a row dating back to last season.

A committee of NFL officials approved the Astrodome playing surface, and Fisher added his endorsement after the game: “The playing surface was fine,” he said. “We didn’t have any problems.”


The NFL canceled an Oilers’ exhibition game Aug. 19 against the Chargers after declaring the Astrodome’s surface dangerous.