Pittsburgh Steelers 6 Biggest Divisional Playoff Wins
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The Pittsburgh Steelers have reached the NFL divisional playoffs in only two of the last seven seasons.
It might seem like more because when the Steelers were among the NFL's final eight teams in 2008 and 2010, they reached the Super Bowl both times.
The playoffs have been feast or famine for the Steelers since they won their fifth Super Bowl in 2005. They've either gone to the Super Bowl, missed the playoffs (2006, 2009, 2012) or lost in the Wild Card Round (2007, 2011).
The Steelers are 15-7 all time in the divisional round. Let's take a look at the biggest divisional-playoff wins in their history. Since the Steelers were home watching the divisional playoffs after the 2012 season, it's not like this list will change anytime soon.
No. 6: 1974
Terry Bradshaw calls signals during a 1981 game.
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Steelers 32, Bills 14
This one makes the list because of its historic implications.
Not only did this victory lead to the Steelers' first championship, it also stamped out any lingering quarterback controversy in Pittsburgh. Terry Bradshaw would be the unquestioned starter as the Steelers embarked on their run of four Super Bowl titles in six years.
It didn't look that way during the regular season in 1974. Joe Gilliam started the first six games. The Steelers went 4-1-1, but Gilliam couldn't hang on to the starting job.
Bradshaw took over and led the Steelers to two wins but completed just 13 of 35 passes in a loss to Cincinnati, and Terry Hanratty started in Week 10.
Hanratty completed just two of 15 passes before Gilliam replaced him and completed one of four passes. Bradshaw started the last four games of the regular season. One of those games was a 13-10 loss at home to the 5-6 Houston Oilers. That's not what championship teams do in December.
The loss frustrated Hall of Famer Mean Joe Greene so much that he almost quit the team, according to Steelers.com.
The Steelers wouldn't lose again.
This victory over the Bills at Three Rivers Stadium was just the second playoff win in franchise history.
Bradshaw completed 12 of 19 passes for 203 yards in his first playoff game without an interception. The Steelers exploded for 26 points in the second quarter to take a 29-7 halftime lead and never looked back.
Steelers.com described the scene as a "love-fest."
The Steelers would give their fans a lot to love over the next six years.
No. 5: 1984
Louis Lipps plays in a 1988 game.
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Steelers 24, Broncos 17
This game outranks No. 6 because of the magnitude of the upset.
This is as good as it would get for the Steelers in the 1980s. Their only divisional-playoff victory of the decade was this shocker over John Elway and the 13-3 Broncos at Mile High Stadium.
Mark Malone was no Terry Bradshaw. Frank Pollard was no Franco Harris. Louis Lipps was no Lynn Swann. But they were all good enough to beat the Broncos in this game.
Lipps actually had more career receptions and receiving yards than Swann, he just doesn't have any championship rings. What he did have was a touchdown on a 10-yard pass from Malone that tied this game 17-17 in the third quarter.
Pollard isn't immortalized with a statue at Pittsburgh International Airport, but he scored the game-winning touchdown on a two-yard run late in the fourth quarter. As Steelers offensive lineman Craig Wolfley recalled on Steelers.com:
"Frankie Pollard gave me a 220-pound enema boost from behind as he gutted it over for the game winner."
The touchdown was set up by Eric Williams' interception with 3:30 left in the game, Elway's second interception of the afternoon.
Malone out-shined Elway, completing 17 of 28 passes with a touchdown and no interceptions. Elway completed 20 of 38 passes.
This was the second consecutive road upset for the Steelers, who finished 9-7 in the regular season. To get into the playoffs, they had to beat the defending-champion Raiders at the Los Angeles Coliseum 13-7 in the final week of the regular season.
The Steelers got past Elway, but not Dan Marino. They lost 45-28 at Miami the following week in the AFC Championship Game.
No. 4: 2004
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Steelers 20, Jets 17 (OT)
Was this one pretty? No.
Rookie Ben Roethlisberger led the Steelers to a 15-1 record in the regular season, but he was so shaky in his playoff debut that it was pretty apparent the Steelers weren't making it to the Super Bowl.
But what a game this was at Heinz Field.
The Steelers trailed 17-10 and had the ball at the Jets 22-yard line early in the fourth quarter when Jerome Bettis fumbled. The defense bailed him out with a three-and-out.
Pittsburgh tied the game on a four-yard touchdown pass to Hines Ward with six minutes left, but the Jets drove into field-goal position with two minutes to go.
Jets kicker Doug Brien missed a 47-yard field-goal attempt, but before anyone could breathe a sigh of relief, Roethlisberger threw his second interception of the game.
Reggie Tongue returned the first one 86 yards to give the Jets a 17-10 lead in the third quarter. The second one, intercepted by David Barrett, gave the Jets the ball at the Steelers' 37 and set up Brien's 43-yard field-goal attempt with four seconds left.
He missed that one, too.
Jeff Reed's 33-yard field goal 12 minutes into overtime spared the Steelers the indignity of being the first 15-1 team to fall short of the conference championship.
The Steelers' luck ran out the following week. The New England Patriots won the AFC Championship Game at Heinz Field for the second time in four years on the way to their third Super Bowl title.
Roethlisberger, Bettis, Ward and the Steelers would be hoisting the Lombardi Trophy soon enough.
No. 3: 2010
Steelers 31, Ravens 24
This game is No. 3 on the list because the Steelers came back from a 14-point deficit, the biggest deficit they've overcome to win a divisional-round game. Also, it led to a Super Bowl berth and turned on a memorable play.
The Steelers trailed 21-7 at halftime. What made this comeback at Heinz Field seem all the more unlikely was the way they sleepwalked through the first half. They fell behind 14-7 when Ravens' defensive end Cory Redding ran for a 13-yard touchdown with everyone else standing around. The Steelers thought it was an incomplete pass.
Then in the second quarter, Rashard Mendenhall fumbled deep in Steelers territory, although there didn't seem to be much urgency to recover the fumble. It looked like a routine running play, but when the bodies came off the pile, the Ravens had the ball and converted the turnover to a touchdown.
The Steelers finally woke up in the second half, forcing a couple of turnovers and tying the game.
With just over two minutes left and the game tied 24-24, the Steelers faced a 3rd-and-19 at their own 38-yard line. That's when rookie Antonio Brown made like David Tyree.
Ben Roethlisberger threw a deep ball that Brown pinned to his helmet and caught at the 4-yard line, setting up Mendenhall's game-winning touchdown.
Unlike Tyree, Brown caught more NFL passes after his famous header, including one on third down that sealed the Steelers' win over the Jets the following week in the AFC Championship Game, which earned the franchise its eighth trip to the Super Bowl.
No. 2: 2005
Steelers 21, Colts 18
This is the Steelers' most surprising playoff win in any round.
Any time a game can be remembered for a play that gets "the" title, it's going to be high on any list.
Peyton Manning and the Indianapolis Colts started the season 13-0 and finished 14-2. The New England Patriots, their playoff nemesis of the last two seasons, were eliminated the night before. The coast seemed clear for Manning to get to his first Super Bowl.
Or so it seemed.
The Steelers finished 11-5 and had to win their last four games just to get into the playoffs as the No. 6 seed.
With Ben Roethlisberger still a fresh-faced quarterback in his second season, the Steelers ran the fewest passing plays in the NFL and the most running plays.
So what did they do against the Colts?
They came out throwing.
Bill Cowher turned Roethlisberger loose, and he completed nine of his first 12 passes for 147 yards and two touchdowns, leading the Steelers to a 14-0 lead in the first quarter.
The Steelers increased the lead to 21-3 through three quarters. The Colts cut the lead to 21-10 early in the fourth quarter. Then the Steelers hung onto the ball for eight minutes, twice converting fourth-down attempts, before punting with just over six minutes left.
If a Troy Polamalu interception hadn't been overturned by replay, the Steelers might have had a nice, tidy 21-10 win. Instead, the Colts scored a touchdown and made the two-point conversion to pull to within 21-18 with more than four minutes to go.
The Colts had the ball again with 2:31 left, but two Joey Porter sacks, including one on fourth down, backed the Colts to their own 2-yard line, where they turned it over to the Steelers with 1:20 left.
Before the Steelers could book their flight to Denver, though, Bettis fumbled and the Colts' Nick Harper ran it back with nothing but open field ahead of him.
Not many people figured Roethlisberger would throw the ball so much early in this game. No one figured he'd be needed to make a tackle.
It wasn't just any tackle. It was "The Tackle."
Roethlisberger got an arm around Harper's legs and tripped him up enough for the rest of the Steelers to catch him at the Colts 42.
Manning moved the Colts into field-goal range, but there was one more twist in this game of twists and turns. Colts kicker Mike Vanderjagt missed a 46-yard field-goal attempt, and the Steelers conquered the Colts.
No way were the Steelers going to lose at Denver in the AFC Championship Game the following week, not with a chance to take Jerome Bettis home to Detroit to finish his career in Super Bowl XL.
It was the Steelers' first trip to the Super Bowl in 10 years. In between, they lost four AFC Championship Games at home.
That changed in 2005. This monumental upset of the Colts gave the Steelers the momentum to go all the way and finally win One for the Thumb after a 26-year wait.
No. 1: 1972
Steelers 13, Raiders 7
"The Immaculate Reception."
"The Tackle" set the Steelers on a course to end a decade of playoff frustration.
"The Immaculate Reception" ended four decades in which the playoffs in Pittsburgh were like some childhood fantasy.
This game would have been memorable even without "The Immaculate Reception." It just wouldn't have been remembered so fondly in Pittsburgh.
Raiders quarterback Ken Stabler scored on a 30-yard touchdown run to give Oakland a 7-6 lead with 1:13 left.
You know the rest.
With 22 seconds left, the Steelers faced 4th-and-10 from their own 40. Terry Bradshaw's pass, Frenchy Fuqua and Jack Tatum all met at the same point like some subatomic reaction that produced history.
Rookie running back Franco Harris snatched the wayward ball out of the air and raced down the sideline for the touchdown that gave the Steelers the win in their first playoff game since the franchise was formed 40 years earlier.
The Steelers lost 21-17 to the 17-0 Miami Dolphins the following week. It would be another two years before they won their first Super Bowl, but everything that's happened since "The Immaculate Reception" might as well be considered A.D. in Steelers history and everything before it B.C.
"The Immaculate Reception" sparked a run of eight straight playoff appearances for the Steelers. In the 40 years since, they've been to eight Super Bowls, winning six of them. They've never gone more than four straight years without a playoff berth, and even that occurred only once.
Hopefully for Steelers fans, the next 40 years are just as good as the last 40.