´ Steel Curtain Rising: The Steelers vs. the Patriots -- A History of Milestones and Turning Points

Who gets the game ball for the Steelers win over the Texans?

Sunday, November 23, 2008

The Steelers vs. the Patriots -- A History of Milestones and Turning Points

In recent years the outcome of Steelers vs. the Patriots has carried a certain magnitude felt into the post-season.

Interestingly enough, while the Patriots are not historic rivals, games against New England have almost always marked milestones or turning points for Pittsburgh or, at the very least, they revealed something important about the Steelers.

Click Below or Scroll Down for a look back at some of the past match ups with the Patriots and what they’ve meant:

1989 - Road Kill on the Run to the Playoffs
1990 - Noll Breaks the 200 Win Barrier
1991 - Isn't This Why We Draft Guys Like This?
1993 - The Goal Line Stand Saves the Season
1995 - My How the Steelers Offense Has Changed
1996 - Fog Bowl II Sends Donahoe and Cowher Heading to the Rocks
1997 - Bledsoe Beaten by the Zone Blitz
1997 Playoffs - Cowher Trumps Carroll in Chess Match
1998 - The Steelers REFUSE to Accept a Game Gift Wapped by the Patriots
2001 - AFC Championship Game – Yes, Special Team IS Part of the Game Too...
2002 - Steelers Dread the Spread
2004 - Roethlisberger is for Real...
...2004 - AFC Championship Game - Roethlisberger is a Rookie After All
2005 - Ben Roethlisberger's Prophetic Wisdom
2007 - Will Someone Please Shut Anthony Smith's Mouth?
2008 - Stepping Stone to Lombardi Number 6
2010 - Steelers Get A Good Old Fashioned Spanking
2011 - Steelers Exorcise a Demon Named "Brady"

1989 - Road Kill on the Run to the Playoffs

Everyone knows that the 1989 Steelers lost their first two games by a combined score of 92-10, yet made the playoffs. At 4-6, Chuck Noll refused to write off the year as a rebuilding season, and declared that the Seelers were aiming for the playoffs. Everyone rolled their eyes.

They shouldn’t have.

The Steelers won five of their last six games. In the fifteenth game of the season, the Steelers upset the Patriots 28-10.

  • Milestone: Although the Steelers are in the midst of one of the most impressive late season runs in franchise history, only 26,594 fans show up, marking the game one of the lowest non-strike home game attendance records in franchise history.

1990 - Chuck Noll's 200th Win

The Steelers followed the glory of 1989 with a season filled frustration for their fans. When a reporter asked Noll why the Steelers had failed to defeat a winning team in 1990, he responded: “We did beat a winning team, we beat ourselves a number of times.”

Once again, Noll was right.

One of the losing teams that the Steelers dispatched that year was the Patroits, winning 24-3 on December 9th.
  • Milestone: Chuck Noll wins his 200th game against New England, putting him into an elite company of coaches who can make that claim.
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1991 - Who Was it that Blocked that Punt?

In perhaps the most ho-hum match up of them all, the Steelers defeated the Patriots 20-6 in the 1991 season’s third contest.
  • Milestone: Its a strech to call this a milestone, but... Ernie Mills blocks a punt for a touchdown in the end zone. Although Pittsburgh had invested a third round pick in Mills and the Steelers offense struggled mightily that year, this was to be one of the few times Mills’ name was to be heard.
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1993 - The Goal Line Stand Saves the Season

After devastating the defending AFC Champion Buffalo Bills 23-0 on Monday Night Football, the Steelers got manhandled in successive weeks by the Broncos and then the Oilers. Late in the season, New England begins to respond to Bill Parcells and starts winning games. The Steelers prevail 17-14.
  • Turning Point: Rookie Drew Bledsoe fails to convert a 4th and goal with a QB sneak. Replays reveal Bledsoe might have made it; the Steelers reliance on pure luck shows just how precarious their situation was. Bledsoe find himself at the pivotal moments of several succeding games.
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1995 - “I’ll match you a DB for every WR”

The Steelers defeat the Patriots 41-27 in a wild game that sees Curtis Martin become one of the few runners to rush for 100 yards against the Steelers.
  • Milestone: Bill Parcells activates every defensive back that he has in an attempt to combat the Steelers five wide receiver spread consisting of Yancy Thigpen, Ernie Mills, Andre Hastings, Charles Johnson, and rookie “Slash” Kordell Stewart. Parcell’s gambit underscores just how much the Steelers offense under Ron Ernhardt has evolved from “its run on first, run on second, and if its 3 or less, run on third” days.

1996 - Fog Bowl II Sends Donahoe and Cowher Heading to the Rocks

Although visiting Foxboro for the first time since 1979, the Steelers enter the divisional playoff game as favorites. But Jerome Bettis plays hurt. Kordell Stewart fails to complete a single pass in relief of Mike Tomzack. A thick fog envelops the playing field, and this aptly describes the Steelers performance.
  • Milestone: Rod Woodson’s final game as a Pittsburgh Steeler.
  • Turning Point: Steelers Director of Football Operations Tom Donahue criticizes the team for coming out flat. This does not sit well with Bill Cowher, and if the Cowher-Donahu rift between did not start here, this was the day it certainly became public.

1997 - Bledsoe Beaten by the Zone Blitz

The 1997 versions of the Steelers and Patriots were about as evenly matched as you’ll ever see two NFL teams. The game features Bill Cowher going for it on fourth deep in his own territory early in the game. Despite converting this gamble, the Steelers never lead in regulation. Leading 21-13 late in the game, New England only needs to covert one more third down to run out the clock.

Dropping back into coverage on third down, defensive end Kevin Henry intercepts Bledsoe’s pass and returns it far down field. In the ensuing position Yancy Thigpen makes an acrobatic 4th down conversion, to set up a Steelers touchdown followed by a 2 point conversion that ties the game. Steelers win in overtime.
  • Milestone: This game is by far the most exciting Steelers win of the late 1990’s. In fact, it is arguably the last time the Steelers would “win a big game” during that period.

1997 Playoffs - Cowher Trumps Carroll in Chess Match

The Steelers and Patriots would meet again in the playoffs. The second meeting proved definitively that an almost metaphyiscal parity existed between these two teams. Kordell Stewart scored the games’ only touchdown and team’s only points on a planned run in the first half. But the story is defense and field position, as Bill Cowher and Pete Carroll match wits throughout the contest. Late in the game, Cowher goes for it on fourth and goal and the Steelers are stuffed, but the defense holds for a 6-7 win.
  • Turning Point: The play of game, a sack/strip of Drew Bledsoe as time runs out is made by a man who would return to haunt the Steelers -- none other than reserve rookie defensive lineman Mike Vrabel….
  • Milestone: This was Steelers final playoff victory at Three Rivers Stadium.

1998 - The Game The Pats CANNOT GIVE Away

One week after the infamous “heads-tails” fiasco in Detroit the Steelers offense is beyond deflated, and the team loses 23-9.
  • Turning Point: Multiple turnovers, solid special teams, and excellent defense give the Steelers possession deep in New England territory numerous times in the second half, yet the team converts none of these into a touchdown. The tailspin which will eventually see the team lose its final five is in full force.

2001, AFC Championship – Yes, Special Team IS Part of the Game Too...

At this point the football world does not yet believe in Tom Brady, and most of Steelers Nation views Bill Belichick as a retread who the Steelers used to beat up on when he was dismally failing as head coach of the Cleveland Browns.

My how reality rears its ugly head…. The Patriots completely outplay the Steelers in the first half, but the story is Drew Bledsoe coming off the bench to lead a 40 yard 11 play drive that resulted in a touchdown with less than a minute to go in the first half, and two special teams breakdowns that resulted in 14 New England points, as the Patriots won 24 to 17.
  • Milestone: With his final throws as a Patriot, Drew Bledsoe gets revenge on the Steelers....
  • Turning Point: Kordell Stewart’s final playoff game. Stewart had a Pro Bowl season in 2001, stepping up big time when Jerome Bettis went down. His teammates voted him MVP. Although Stewart did not “lose” the game, he does throw 2 picks as the Steelers attempted to come back, showing that he is simply incapable of playing under pressure.

2002 - Steelers Dread the Spread

The Steelers returned to Foxboro to start the year on Monday Night Football with revenge on their mind. Instead they got another rude awakening, as New England picked off the Stewart’s first pass and did not even bother to attempt to run the ball in the second half as they won 30-14.
  • Turning Point: Bill Belichick decimates the Steelers secondary with the spread offense, revealing just how vulnerable the Steelers once vaunted pass defense has become. Although he lacks quality personnel, Tim Lewis' failure to adjust over the next two years paves the way for his departure as defensive coordinator, and the Steelers commit to revamping their secondary, beginning with drafting Troy Polamalu...

2004 - Rookie Roethlisberger is for Real...

The Patriots bring one of the NFL’s longest winning streaks to Heinz Field, but Ben Roethlisberger has his own streak, having won his first five starts. With a lot of help from the defense and Jerome Bettis and Duce Staley, Roethlisberger improves his streak winning streak to six.
  • Milestone: Although it would take at least two more years to shake the “game manager” label, Ben gets his first win over a legitimate contender.

2004 AFC Championship Game - ...Roethlisberger is a Rookie After All

The Steelers are at home, but everyone knows that that Patriots are the favorite. Tom Brady plays some flawless ball, while Ben looks every bit the rookie throwing three interceptions, losing his first game in 16 starts.
  • Turning Point: Bye, bye Burress! Plaxico Burress drops a difficult, but catchable pass in the end zone, yet has the gall to complain about not getting the ball enough. It is his last game as a Steeler. Addition by subtraction.

2005 Ben Roethlisberger's Prophetic Wisdom

The third game of the season brings the Patriots to Pittsburgh, and they leave winners 23-20.
  • Turning Point: Many in Steelers Nation see the loss as evidence that the Steelers cannot overcome the Patriots, and therefore the Super Bowl is out of reach. But the season ends with the Steelers bringing home their fifth Lombardi Trophy. As Big Ben when the 2005 season started, “We can finish at worse than 15-1 and still be a better team.” Fortunately, Ben was right.

2007 - Will Someone TAPE Anthony Smith's Mouth Shut?

The Steelers take a 9-3 record into Foxboro against a Patriots team that is in route to the NFL’s first 16-0 regular season mark. Safety Anthony Smith (someone tape his mouth shut) guarantees a victory but gets torched by Tom Brady twice, as the Patriots won 34 to 13. The game was even more lopsided than the score might make it appear.
  • Milestone? Steelers Nation hopes (prays?) this does not become a milestone, but the fact that the Steelers are forced to resort to trick plays on the goal line underlines the difficulty that Bruce Arians’ offense is having controlling the line of scrimmage.
  • Turning Point: After the game, Mike Tomlin observed: “If this is the measuring stick, we’re not even close.” He’s right. This game marks a very weak finish to an otherwise strong start for Mike Tomlin during his first year.

2008 - Prelude to Things to Come

The Steelers travel to Foxboro and defeat the Patriots for the first time there since 1997. The Steelers are dominant on both offense and defense, and while their special teams did allow for a couple of long run backs, they did also secure a bobbled kick return, which the offense turned into points.
Milestone/turning point? Well, its too hard to say if this game will present milestones or turning points, but this win marks:
  • Milestone - Mike Tomlin gets his first win over a legitmate contender, or at least a team that looked like a contender going into the game.... :)
  • Turning Point - For one game at least, the Steelers return to Steelers football, as Willie Parker, Mewelde Moore and Gary Russell team up to ensure that the Steelers dominate time of possession.
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2010 - Steelers Get A Good Old Fashioned Spanking

There’s no other way to describe the Patriots 39-26 defeat of the Steelers at Heinz Field. Forget about the Steelers late scoring surge, that was tantamount to crying “no I’ll be good!” at the point that the reality of an Old Fashioned Spanking sets in.
  • Turning Point -- For as bad as this game was, it became a rallying point for the Steelers. Jeff Reed was cut. Dick LeBeau adjusted his defense to bring the corners closer to the receivers. Ziggy Hood entered what has been the best stretch of his career. The Steelers bounced back and ultimately made it to Super Bowl XLV
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2011 - Steelers Exorcise a Demon Named "Brady"
The story before this game was Tom Brady’s ownership of the Pittsburgh Steelers. Mike Tomlin heard none of it. That story belonged to an earlier generation. The Steelers boasted the NFL’s number one defense, yet no true quarterback had tested them. And no quarterback was hotter than Tom Brady in the fall of ’11.

Tom Brady was supposed to bring the Steelers defense down to earth. Dick LeBeau and Carnell Lake elected not to pass that on their team.

The Steelers went on the attack, scoring on the opening drive, taking control of a game in a way they had not since the ’05 divisional playoffs vs. the Colts. Ben Roethlisberger threw 50 passes, hitting 9 different receivers as the Steelers dominated the tempo.
  • But the real story was on defense.
Dick LeBeau opened his bag of tricks, playing more press coverage that anyone had seen him play before or since. And it worked. Playing without James Farrior and James Harrison, the Steelers defense managed to harass Tom Brady, as LaMarr Woodley sacked him twice. Deion Branch and Wes Welker had been tearing up the NFL, but Dick LeBeau kept them both under 40 yards catching, with the help of youngsters like Cortez Allen.

The Steelers sealed the game when Brett Keisel strip sacked Brady, and Troy Polamalu knocked the ball out of bounds.
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Take a moment to leave a comment to share your thoughts or memories on Steelers-Patriots contests of the past.

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Anonymous said...

Everytime we play them i hear steelers defense this, steelers defense that... cut the crap... steelers won just once in the last 10 years... my word Pats 24 Steelers 10

Anonymous said...

Things eventually change ...this is the year...The Pats will struggle to score.

KT said...

Hard to know how to respond to the first post. "Cut the crap?"

Where's that coming from? This post offered no predictions of Steelers victory or of defensive domination.

In fact its focus was on the milestones that have occured when the Steelers have played the Pats, and its pretty clear that those milestones in recent years have not been happy ones for Steelers fans.

In defense of the Steel Curtain, I will say that this best Steelers defense that Billy B. has had to go up against.

James said...

The defense has been great the last few games but the offense, starting with big Ben, looks like heck. The New England pass rush isn't Cincinnati's and unless they've finally come up with some quick pass plays that will work and convinced Rothlesberger he can't hold the ball for six minutes this game is going to have a very bad outcome for the Steelers.

KT said...

James, while I am not as down on Ben as you, but I agree, if he is running for his life, it will be a long afternoon.

Anonymous said...


KT said...

I agree. Cassell has not faced off against a duo like Woodley and Silverback....