Dan Pastorini passed 10 yards to Rich Caster in the end zone with 2:39 remaining yesterday, capping an amazing Houston comeback and lifting the Oilers to a 26-23 NFL victory over the New England patriots.
The Oilers spotted New England a 23-0 lead in the first half before rebounding on the passing of Pastorini and the running of Earl Campbell and Rob Carpenter to snap the Patriots' seven-game winning steak.
New England, now 8-3, has dropped into a tie for the American Conference East Lead with Miami, which defeated Buffalo, 25-24.
The Patriots threatened to turn the game into a runaway by scoring the first five times it had the ball: David Posey booting three field goals and Horace Ivory and Steve Grogan sprinting for short touchdown runs.
However, the Oilers (7-4) started their comeback late in the first half. Carpenter capped the drive by racing eight yards up the middle.
New England marched to a first down at the Houston 13 early in the second half, but Posey failed on a 25-yard field goal attempt.
The Oiler were in command after that. They immediately marched 80 yards with the help of a New England penalty on a Houston punt, setting up Carpenter for a three-yard touchdown plunge. That made the score 23-14.
Grogan gambled on a long pass and Houston's Louie Alexander intercepted at his 24 late in the third period, starting a 72-yard march for a one-yard touchdown by Campbell at 5:57 of the fourthj period. It was Campbell's eighth rushing store of the season, an Oiler record. The key play in the drive was a fake field goal in which Pastorini took the snap and pitched it forward to Carpenter, who ran 18 yards to the New England 13, Carpenter later was taken off the field after an apparent serious injury to his right knee.
The winning Oiler drive came when New England failed to capitalize on a fourth-and-two situation on the Houston 41. Grogan rolled left but was unable to hook up with Russ Francis, who was open down field. Mike Reinseldt broke up the pass for Houston.
Taking possession, the Oilers marched down field on the passing of Pastorini.On the 10th play, the veteran quarterback found Caster in the end zone for the winning touchdown.
The Oilers, hurt by three lost fumbles, could do little in the first half until they got a break when Ted Thompson recovered Stanley Morgan's fumble of a punt at the New England 32. Three plays later, with the Patriots keying on Campbell, Carpenter ran up the middle for his first touchdown.
The Houston defense surrendered two first downs to the Patriots early in the third period contained the New England offense the rest of the way. Meanwhile, the Oilers rolled up 18 first downs in the second half after being held to a mere six in the first two periods.
Pastorini hit on just three of nine passes in the first half, but came back after the intermission to connect on 12 of 18 for 155 yards.
Although Campbell was a New England target the entire game, the 1977 Heisman trophy winner from Texas netted 74 yards in 24 carries.
Houston kicker Toni Fritsch missed the final two conversion tries.