This Sunday the AFC’s two best teams, the Steelers and Patriots, will meet for yet another clash that could determine home-field advantage throughout the AFC playoffs.
It seems like the Steelers have been an AFC contender as long as they’ve been an NFL franchise. The Patriots, meanwhile, have been a fixture at or near the top of the AFC ever since Tom Brady took over at quarterback.
Tom Brady and Ben Roethlisberger have appeared in 7 of the last 12 Super Bowls and with their Patriots and Steelers teams a combined 21-5, it appears likely that one of the two will make that 8 of 13 this year.
Tom Brady has dominated the Steelers over his career, boasting a 10-2 record against the team, but there’s often a lot at stake when they face off. Here’s a look at some of their most memorable showdowns.
2004: The Beginning and a Postseason Grudge Match
The 2004 season featured a pair of games between the two teams which were easily two of the best in NFL that year. In Week 8 of the 2004 season, the Patriots came into Heinz Field with an NFL record 21 game winning streak to take on rookie quarterback Ben Roethlisberger and the Steelers. The Steelers came into the game 5-1 on the season, and 3-0 since Roethlisberger had to take over for an injured Tommy Maddox, setting the stage for another game that would prove crucial for an AFC seeding tiebreaker.
The Steelers started the game with a 3-and-out and the banged up Patriots offense (Deion Branch and Corey Dillon both missed the game) came up with a field goal drive to take a 3-0 lead. From there, it was all Steelers. Ty Law suffered a season-ending foot injury on the next drive and Roethlisberger quickly took advantage with a 47-yard touchdown strike to Plaxico Burress. The Steelers’ Joey Porter got a strip sack of Brady on the Patriots’ ensuing drive, leading to another Roethlisberger touchdown pass to Burress. Brady’s struggles continued when he threw a pick-six to Deshea Townsend on the first play of the next drive, giving the Steelers a 21-3 lead after the first quarter.
The Steelers maintained control throughout the game as running backs Duce Staley and Jerome Bettis totaled 125 yards and 65 yards and a touchdown respectively. Tom Brady had tocuhdown passes to David Givens in the second and fourth quarters but the Patriots ultimately lost 34-20. It was the Patriots first loss since they were defeated by the Redskins in Week 4 of the 2003 season.
The Steelers went on to finish the regular season 15-1 and secured the AFC’s 1-seed. The Patriots finished 14-2 and were left to seek revenge when they traveled to Heinz Field again for the 2004 AFC Championship.
This time, it was the Steelers who carried a long winning streak into their matchup with New England, having won 15 straight behind Roethlisberger. The temperature was 11° F at game-time, marking the coldest playoff game in Steelers history.
The Patriots were able to take control of the game early by capitalizing on Pittsburgh’s mistakes. On the first play of the game Roethlisberger was intercepted by Patriots defensive back Eugene Wilson, which led to a Patriots field goal, giving New England a 3-0 lead. Pittsburgh responded by driving to the Patriots 39-yard line but then Jerome Bettis fumbled and Brady threw a 60-yard touchdown pass to Deion Branch on the next play.
The Steelers answered with a 23 yard field goal near the end of the first quarter but after an exchange of punts, the Patriots scored on 9-yard touchdown pass to David Givens. On the ensuing drive, Patriots safety Rodney Harrison picked off a pass from Roethlisberger and returned it for a touchdown, giving the Patriots a 24-3 lead at halftime.
After forcing a Patriots punt to open the third quarter, the Steelers closed a 56-yard drive with a 5-yard touchdown run by Bettis, bringing them within two touchdowns of the Patriots, 24-10. New England answered with a 25-yard touchdown run by Corey Dillon to once again extend their lead to 21.
Pittsburgh answered with back-to-back scoring drives, capped by a 30-yard Hines Ward touchdown catch and 20-yard field goal by Jeff Reed. The Patriots answered by taking 5:26 off the clock on a 49-yard drive that ended with a 31-yard Adam Vinatieri field goal. Wilson picked up his second interception of Roethlisberger on the ensuing drive and Patriots killed another 5:06 of game clock and the Steelers’ Super Bowl hopes on a drive that ended with a 23-yard touchdown run by Deion Branch on a reverse play. The Steelers responded with a 7-yard touchdown pass from Roethlisberger to Burress to give the game its final score of 41-27.
The Patriots went on to win their second straight Super Bowl and third in four years with a 24-21 win over the Philadelphia Eagles.
2010: A Fourth Quarter Explosion
In 2010, the Patriots and Steelers came into their showdown with matching 6-2 records and this looked to be yet another game that would decide who would be in position for home-field advantage throughout the AFC playoffs.
Coming off a blowout loss to the lowly Cleveland Browns, the Patriots looked to bounce back at Heinz Field. The Patriots seemed determined to do that, as Brady connected with Rob Gronkowski for two touchdowns and ran one in himself against the Steelers number 1 ranked defense to give the Patriots a 23-3 lead heading into the fourth quarter.
The Steelers offense came alive in the final period, as they answered with a 7-play, 71-yard drive, scoring on a 6-yard touchdown pass from Roethlisberger to Emmanuel Sanders. After the Patriots punted, safety James Sanders picked off a Roethlisberger pass and returned it for a touchdown, extending the Patriots lead to 29-10 after a failed two-point conversion.
The Steelers answered with another quick touchdown drive, going 53 yards in five plays and scoring on a 15-yard touchdown pass to Mike Wallace and got the two point conversion to trim the Patriots’ lead to 29-18. The Patriots then put the game away, recovering the Steelers’ onside kick and driving 41 yards in in 5 plays, capped by a 25-yard touchdown pass from Brady to Gronkowski, their third of the game.
On the next drive the Steelers scored on a 33-yard pass from Roethlisberger to Wallace and got the two-point conversion. The Patriots recovered another onside kick and a 36-yard Shayne Graham field goal gave the game its final score of 39-26.
The Patriots went 14-2 and earned the AFC’s 1-seed and a first-round bye but they were upset by the New York Jets 28-21 in the Divisional round. The Steelers, on the other hand, finished 12-4 and earned the AFC’s 2-seed and rode their home-field advantage to a Super Bowl berth, eventurally losing to Aaron Rodgers and the Green Bay Packers 31-25.
With two future Hall of Fame quarterbacks going head-to-head once again this Sunday, we can be sure to expect a lot of points when the Patriots and Steelers meet for yet another pivotal AFC matchup. Given how dominant both teams have looked at times this season, don’t be surprised if this is the first of two matchups between the teams on their way to another Super Bowl berth.