Sports Illustrated has put out a piece on the “Biggest gut-punch loss” for each and every franchise, Steelers included.
The game that the author the piece, Doug Farrar, picked is an interesting one – a game that stopped the Steelers from appearing in Super Bowl XXXIX vs the Eagles.
Pittsburgh Steelers: Jan. 23, 2005, AFC championship—Patriots 41, Steelers 27
The best regular-season Steelers team was the 2004 version—they lost just one game before the playoffs, rookie QB Ben Roethlisberger looked like a future star, and the team beat both the Patriots and Eagles (the eventual Super Bowl teams) in the regular season. But Roethlisberger, who threw 11 picks in the regular season, threw three in this championship game, and the Patriots went on to their second Super Bowl win in three years.
It’s a solid pick, as the Steelers were 15-1 in that regular season, and defeated the Patriots on Halloween that season, ending their NFL record winning streak from the season before.
It also was the rookie season for Ben Roethlisberger, and he wasn’t very good the week before in the overtime AFC Divisional win over the New York Jets.
While that game was a tough one to swallow, there’s a number of other games that easily could have been up for consideration for basically the worst loss in team history.
1. 1994 AFC Title Game – San Diego 17 Pittsburgh 13
The Steelers looked as if they were going to steamroll to the Super Bowl after beating the Browns for a third time the week before in the AFC Divisional Playoff game, but in what was the first of a number of Bill Cowher AFC Title Game losses, this may have been the toughest to swallow.
QB Neil O’Donnell was forced to throw over 50 times due to the Chargers stuffing the run game of Barry Foster and Byron ‘Bam’ Morris, and after the defense which was great all season gave up a 13-3 lead, it was O’Donnell who nearly won the game in the final seconds.
The end came on a infamous 4th and 3 when linebacker Dennis Gibson leaped over the top of Foster and knocked down a pass to end the last chance for the Steelers in the final seconds. A loss that was haunting for a time.
2. Super Bowl XLV – Green Bay 35 Pittsburgh 31
The Steelers were looking for a NFL record 7th title, and they played the Packers in the 45th Super Bowl in an epic encounter in Dallas.
The Packers ran all over the Steelers to put up what looked like an impossible 21-3 lead, but the Steelers rallied with a Hines Ward TD right before half.
They trailed Green Bay 21-17 and had the ball, but on the 1st play of the fourth quarter Clay Matthews Jr. hit RB Rashard Mendenhall perfectly, causing a fumble which killed all the Steelers momentum.
The Steelers did have a shot in the end, but the Packers defense held in the final seconds to win their 4th Super Bowl title, leaving the Steelers in shock.
3. 2001 AFC Title Game – New England 24 Pittsburgh 17
Special teams killed the Steelers on this day, a day in which they were heavy favorites to head to Super Bowl XXXVI to play the Rams.
A punt return by Troy Brown and a blocked field goal for a score highlighted the Patriots points, and the Steelers offense led by Kordell Stewart was held in check all day.
In the end the Steelers rallied from down 21-3 to get it to 21-17, but after a Pats field goal two picks by Stewart killed any shot the Steelers had to get to the dance.
4. Super Bowl XXX – Dallas 27 Pittsburgh 17
Neil O’Donnell had the lowest interception percentage of any NFL QB in 1995, but in Super Bowl XXX it was two key picks that killed the chance for the Steelers to win the Super Bowl.
The two second half picks, both pulled in by the games’ MVP Larry Brown, led to two Dallas touchdowns, which was enough to hold off the spunky Steelers.
The loss was even more bitter as O’Donnell left the team after 1995, leaving the team in the hands of backup Mike Tomczak, little used Jim Miller and the very green Kordell Stewart.
5. 1997 AFC Title Game – Denver 24 Pittsburgh 21
Ugh. Kordell Stewart and the Steelers had it all in front of them, a home game against the wild card Broncos with a shot to get to Super Bowl XXXII vs the Packers.
Instead, it was a turnover fest, as Stewart threw 3 picks and lost a fumble, as Denver escaped Three Rivers with a three-point win.
The Steelers led 14-7, but John Elway torched the Steelers D for two late second quarter scores to go up 24-7 at the half.
The Steelers got it to 24-21, but an Elway to Shannon Sharpe 3rd down conversion clinched the win and sent the Steelers faithful home devastated.
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