Every Steelers’ AFC Championship game — ranked

The Steelers are 8-7 all time in the AFC title game. We ranked them.

NFL: AFC Championship-Baltimore Ravens at Pittsburgh Steelers
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For all their playoff success — the most postseason appearances, most playoff wins and most Super Bowl victories among them — the AFC title game has seen nearly as many Steelers failures as triumphs.

Pittsburgh is 36-23 all time in the playoffs and 6-2 in the Super Bowl, but just 8-7 in the AFC Championship, with a chance to fall back to .500 if they lose at New England on Sunday. A loss would also give the Patriots the franchise record of nine Super Bowl appearances, breaking the tie with, among other teams, the Steelers. This win would be big.

When Mike Tomlin was asked about having to go through New England in an AFC title game to get back to the Super Bowl for the first time since he’s been in charge of the Steelers, he was quick to point out the Patriots haven’t gone through them to get to a Super Bowl either, at least not while he’s been the head coach.

Sure, that’s true, but in this era, the Patriots undoubtedly have. The 2001 and 2004 NFL Playoffs may predate Tomlin’s time in town, but in the Tom Brady/Bill Belichick era, the Pats beat the Steelers twice to get to the Super Bowl. Twice. Tomlin’s not the only one who hopes it doesn’t happen a third time.

With that, we thought we’d continue our round-by-round ranking of the Steelers in the playoffs. (Check our rankings of Wild Card games and Divisional Playoff wins, too.)

A loss is a loss in a game this important, but maybe some losses were just a little worse, historically speaking. And then, which of the eight title game wins was the most memorable and exciting? From worst to first, here’s the ranking of every Steelers AFC Championship appearance.

Let’s hurry up, and get the Pats out of the way.

15.  New England Patriots @ Steelers, Jan. 27, 2002

Patriots 24, Steelers 17

Kordell Stewart threw three interceptions and lost a fumble and somehow the Steelers still had a chance to win the 2001 AFC title game against Tom Brady, Drew Bledsoe and the soon-to-be-dynastic Patriots.

The game turned on an attempted field goal in the third quarter with the Steelers trying to cut the score to 14-6. Instead, the kick was blocked and returned for a score, giving New England a 21-3 lead. The Steelers actually scored on the next two drives to cut the deficit to 21-17, but after a field goal by the Patriots, the final three Steelers drives went punt, pick, pick.

This game started the Patriots dynasty. Thanks, Steelers.

14.  New England Patriots @ Steelers, Jan. 23, 2005

Patriots 41, Steelers 27

This was the battle of perhaps the two best teams in the AFC in the last 20 years. The 15-1 Steelers hosted the 14-2 Patriots in the 2004 AFC title game after Pittsburgh had beaten New England earlier in the year. The return meeting didn’t go the same way, as New England crushed the Steelers, getting out to a 24-3 lead and holding on for the 41-27 victory.

Ben Roethlisberger was picked off three times and fumbled once, while Tom Brady and Deion Branch teamed up to take down the Steelers vaunted secondary. The Steelers outscored New England 24 to 17 in the second half, but it was too little, too late to matter.

13.  San Diego Chargers @ Steelers, Jan. 15, 1995

Chargers 17, Steelers 13