By golly, the Steelers are good in the playoffs.
The franchise has a 35-23 record all time, now owning the record for the most playoff wins of any franchise in NFL history (thank Dallas for earning a bye).
Last week, we ranked every Wild Card round game in Steelers history — put the dismantling of the Dolphins somewhere around No. 3 or 4 on that list — so when we decided to rank every Divisional round playoff game in Steelers history we forgot that, holy hell, they’ve played in a lot of Divisional round playoff games.
Twenty-four Divisional round playoff games, to be exact, with a record of 15-9 all-time. That’s good, too good to waste any time on the losses. So with respect to the 21-0 loss to the Eagles in the 1947 playoffs, last year’s failure at Denver and the other seven Divisional losses in between, let’s just focus on the ranking the 15 Divisional round wins in Steelers history.
Of the 15 Divisional round wins, seven, including last season, preceded a conference title loss. Eight other times, the Steelers won again the following week, and six led to Super Bowl victories.
So would you rank those games ahead of, say, the 13-7 win over the Oakland Raiders, which came a week before running into the undefeated 1972 Miami Dolphins? A divisional win is merely a means to a championship end, after all. That said, celebrating the 2010 playoff win over Baltimore seems like it would rank high on the list, despite that season ending in a Super Bowl loss.
In other words, this is hard.
15. New York Jets at Steelers, Jan. 15, 2005
Steelers 20, Jets 17
Ben Roethlisberger was bad in this game. Really bad. Bad Ben, bad. 17-for-30 for 181 and two picks bad. He did throw a touchdown pass to Hines Ward, who caught 10 of the Steelers’ 17 passes, but the Steelers beat the Jets with their defense, holding Curtis Martin to 77 yards and giving up just 275 yards in the entire game.
If not for a Santana Moss punt return for a score and a pick-6 on Roethlisberger, the game wouldn’t have been close, let alone an overtime affair. Still, the worst of the wins.
14. New England Patriots at Steelers, Jan. 3, 1998
Steelers 7, Patriots 6
As someone who has covered the NFL for this long, it’s weird to think about a game ending strip sack by Mike Vrabel happening to the Patriots, but that’s how 1997 Playoffs ended for Drew Bledsoe and New England, as Pittsburgh’s Vrabel helped secure a 7-6 victory. Bledsoe had two interceptions and two fumbles, as the Steelers’ defense won them yet another playoff game.
13. Baltimore Ravens at Steelers, Jan. 20, 2002
Steelers 27, Ravens 10
The game wasn’t close from the jump, which might mean it should rank higher on the list, but as games go, it was over almost before it started. The Steelers were up 20-0 before halftime en route to the 27-10 trouncing. Amos Zeroeue scored two touchdowns, and Kordell Stewart found Plaxico Burress for another. Yes, Stewart out-dueled Elvis Grbac on that day. Grbac threw three picks and was sacked three times, and I’m going to stop writing now because these names are beginning to depress me that this was NFL playoff football.
12. Buffalo Bills at Steelers, Jan. 6, 1996
Steelers 40, Bills 21
Neil O’Donnell threw for 262 yards and a score, with two picks, while Bam Morris rushed 25 times for 106 yards and two scores, as the Steelers beat up on the Bills 40-21 on their way to Super Bowl XXX against Dallas. Pittsburgh got out to a 20-0 lead before the Bills offense even showed up.
Jim Kelly threw for just 135 yards with three picks in the game. Man, that defense was good.
11. Cleveland Browns at Steelers, Jan. 7, 1995
Steelers 29, Browns 9
Hey, remember that time in the mid ’90s when the Browns were good enough to make the playoffs? Me neither!
But guess who their coach was? Bill Belichick!
The Steelers tuned up Belichick’s Browns 29-9 as Neil O’Donnell threw for two scores, to Eric Green and Yancey Thigpen, while Barry Foster rumbled for 133 yards and Bam Morris and John Williams combined for another 103, putting up 424 total yards to the Browns’ 186.
10. San Diego Chargers at Steelers, Jan. 11, 2009
Steelers 35, Chargers 24
The Steelers actually trailed just before halftime of the 2008 Playoff win over San Diego, but things quickly shifted when Willie Parker gave the Steelers the 14-10 lead just before the break. The Steelers scored the next two touchdowns to take a 28-10 lead, then traded scores with the Chargers in the fourth quarter for the 35-24 victory, the first playoff triumph in their most recent Super Bowl-winning campaign. Roethlisberger had modest numbers — 17-for-26 for 181 yards and a score — while Philip Rivers threw for 308 yards and three scores (and one interception).
Willie Parker won the game for Pittsburgh, rushing for 146 yards and two scores on 27 carries, while Santonio Holmes returned a punt 67 yards for another score.
9. Denver Broncos at Steelers, Dec. 30, 1978
Steelers 33, Broncos 10
Franco Harris had 105 yards and two scores on 24 carries, and Terry Bradshaw passed for 272 yards and two scores — one to John Stallworth and the other to Lynn Swann — as Pittsburgh beat up on Denver in the 1978 Divisional round.
Norris Weese led the Broncos in passing in that game, so if you want to impress your Steelers friends this weekend, name drop Norris Weese. Say the Steelers held him to just 118 yards in that playoff game, keeping Denver to just 131 net passing yards — Craig Morton threw for 34 and Bucky Dilts another 16 — keeping the Broncos to 218 total yards. Joe Greene had two sacks in the game.
8. Buffalo Bills at Steelers, Dec. 22, 1974
Steelers 32, Bills 14
All-Pro running back O.J. Simpson was held to just 49 yards, adding 37 and a score receiving, as the Steelers defense held the Bills to just 14 points, pounding them 32-14 en route to the AFC championship.
The Steelers trailed 7-3 after the first quarter, but scored 26 second-quarter points and never looked back. They went on to beat the Raiders the following week, then took out the Vikings in Super Bowl IX, their first Super Bowl victory.
7. Steelers at Baltimore Colts, Dec. 19, 1976
Steelers 40, Colts 14
The old Steeler teams were really good, weren’t they?
Terry Bradshaw threw for 264 yards and three touchdowns — two to Lynn Swann and one to Frank Lewis — as the Steelers beat up on Bert Jones and the Baltimore Colts 40-14 in Baltimore. Jones was sacked five times and the Steelers forced two turnovers in a game that was so out of hand, Mike Kruczek threw six passes for the Steelers, completing five.
That year’s team lost the following week, however, 24-7 to the Raiders, crushing the dream of back-to-back-to-back titles.
6. Baltimore Colts at Steelers, Dec. 27, 1975
Steelers 28, Colts 10
The 1975 Steelers gave up just 37 points in the playoffs, including 10 to the Baltimore Colts. The Colts had just 72 passing yards all game, yet led the game in the second half. From Steelers.com:
Franco Harris ran for an AFC playoff record at the time of 153 yards, but it was Mel Blount’s interception late in the third quarter that provided the Steelers with the impetus to overcome a 10-7 Baltimore third-quarter lead.
Even though Terry Bradshaw’s tough two-yard run, which capped a 39-yard drive, gave the Steelers an 11-point lead with fewer than 12 minutes to play, the Colts stayed in contention and were threatening.
The Colts, led by Jones, who entered the game at the start of the fourth quarter, had marched to the Steelers’ three-yard line. But the Steelers secured the victory when Jack Ham sacked Jones, forcing a fumble that Andy Russell retrieved and returned 93 yards for an NFL record that still stands today.
5. Miami Dolphins at Steelers, Dec. 30, 1979
Steelers 34, Dolphins 14
The Steelers started their Super Bowl defense in style that postseason, getting out to a 20-0 lead over the Dolphins, as Terry Bradshaw threw TD passes to John Stallworth and Lynn Swann. The Steelers upped their lead to 34-7 in the fourth quarter, holding Bob Grise to just 118 yards passing, while Larry Csonka had just 20 yards rushing, including one score.
Bradshaw was 21-for-31 for 230 yards, while Franco Harris, Sidney Thornton and Rocky Bleier all scored on the ground. Those Steelers went on to beat Houston and Los Angeles the next two games for their second back-to-back Super Bowl run in six years.
4. Baltimore Ravens at Steelers, Jan. 15, 2011
Steelers 31, Ravens 24
The Ravens are the worst, aren’t they?
Baltimore got out to a 21-7 lead over the Steelers in this tilt during the 2010 NFL Playoffs, but Ben Roethisberger threw two third quarter touchdowns to tie the game at 21. Two plays later, Joe Flacco fumbled, giving the Steelers the ball back at the Ravens’ 23 just before the end of the third. Pittsburgh was only able to muster a field goal, and the lead, but two drives later the Ravens tied the game at 24.
The Steelers took the ball and drove the length of the field in just over two minutes, buoyed by a 58-yard toss from Roethlisberger to Antonio Brown on a third-and-19 to pull off the win.
Sure, the Steelers needed five chances to score from inside the four-yard line, but score they did, for the 31-24 victory.
3. Steelers at Denver Broncos, Dec. 30, 1984
Steelers 24, Broncos 17
The 9-7 Steelers went in to Denver to face the 13-3 Broncos at Mile High Stadium in John Elway’s first playoff game. And won.
Elway threw for two scores, but also threw two picks, while Mark Malone threw for 224 yards and a score, but fumbled twice, and Frank Pollard had 99 yards and two touchdowns rushing to overtake the Broncos in the second half. Louis Lipps had 86 yards receiving and the game-tying score in the third quarter, before Pollard’s rush sealed the game after Eric Williams picked Elway off and returned it to the Denver four-yard line.
The Steelers ruined the chance for America to get to see Elway face Dan Marino and the Dolphins in the AFC title game. Miami beat Pittsburgh, then lost to the 49ers in the Super Bowl. But hey … Steelers fans didn’t care about ruining a game we never got to see. They beat John Elway!
2. Steelers at Indianapolis Colts, Jan. 15, 2006
Steelers 21, Colts 18
Peyton Manning losing in the playoffs back in the day was pretty common, but it was always fun to see. The Steelers beat the Colts at the old RCA Dome in the 2005 Playoffs when Roethlisberger and Co. got out to a 14-0 lead, then held on for dear life as the Colts took a 21-3 deficit and all but erased it.
All but? Yep.
This game had one of the craziest finishes in playoff history. Forced to go on fourth down from his own 16, Manning was sacked at the two yard line. The next play, with the game won, Jerome Bettis fumbled on a hit by Gary Brackett, picked clean by Nick Harper who was on his way for the score and an unbelievable Colts win.
Until Big Ben saved the day … and the season.
Manning moved Indy down the field after that, then settled for a game-tying field goal attempt. Mike Vanderjagt missed the 46-yard attempt, knocking the Colts out of the playoffs and giving Pittsburgh the win. The No. 6-seed Steelers won the following week at Denver, then beat Seattle in the Super Bowl.
1. Oakland Raiders at Steelers, Dec. 23, 1972
Steelers 13, Raiders 7
You might remember this game, yes?
The first playoff win in Steelers’ history didn’t lead to a Super Bowl, but it set the team down a path to win four titles that decade, which seems pretty darn immaculate.