The Steelers vs Patriots History — Milestones and Turning Points

In recent years the outcome of Steelers vs. the Patriots has carried a certain magnitude felt into the post-season.

Interestingly enough, while the Patriots are not historic rivals, Steelers vs Patriots history is littered with milestones or turning points for Pittsburgh or, at the very least, they revealed something important about the Steelers.

Click below or scroll down for a look back at some of the past match ups with the Patriots and what they’ve meant:

steelers history vs. patriots, Troy Polamlau, Wes Welker, steelers vs. patriots

Troy Polamalu tackles Wes Welker is the Steelers 2011 upset win over the Patriots. Photo Credit: Gregory Shamus, Getty Images via New York Times

1989 – Road Kill on the ’89 Steelers Run to the Playoffs

Sunday December 17, 1989 @ Three Rivers Stadium
Pittsburgh 28, New England 10

Everyone knows that the 1989 Steelers lost their first two games by a combined score of 92-10, yet made the playoffs. At 4-6, Chuck Noll refused to write off the year as a rebuilding season, and declared that the Seelers were aiming for the playoffs. Everyone rolled their eyes.

They shouldn’t have.

The Steelers won five of their last six games. In the fifteenth game of the season, the Steelers upset the Patriots 28-10.

  • Milestone: Although the Steelers are in the midst of one of the most impressive late season runs in franchise history, only 26,594 fans show up, marking the game one of the lowest non-strike home game attendance records in franchise history.

1990 – Chuck Noll’s 200th Win

Sunday December 9, 1990 @ Three Rivers Stadium
Pittsburgh 24, New England 9

The Steelers followed the glory of 1989 with a season filled frustration for their fans. When a reporter asked Noll why the Steelers had failed to defeat a winning team in 1990, he responded: “We did beat a winning team, we beat ourselves a number of times.”

  • Once again, Noll was right.

One of the losing teams that the Steelers dispatched that year was the Patroits, winning 24-3 on December 9th.

  • Milestone: Chuck Noll wins his 200th game against New England, putting him into an elite company of coaches who can make that claim.

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1991 – Who Was it that Blocked that Punt?

Sunday September 15, 1991 @ Three Rivers Stadium
Pittsburgh 20, New England 6

In perhaps the most ho-hum match up of them all, the Steelers defeated the Patriots 20-6 in the 1991 season’s third contest.

  • Milestone: Its a strech to call this a milestone, but… Ernie Mills blocks a punt for a touchdown in the end zone. Although Pittsburgh had invested a third round pick in Mills and the Steelers offense struggled mightily that year, this was to be one of the few times Mills’ name was to be heard.

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1993 – The Goal Line Stand Saves Steelers Season

Sunday September 5, 1993 @ Three Rivers Stadium
Pittsburgh 17, New England 16

After devastating the defending AFC Champion Buffalo Bills 23-0 on Monday Night Football, the Steelers got manhandled in successive weeks by the Broncos and then the Oilers. Late in the season, New England begins to respond to Bill Parcells and starts winning games. The Steelers prevail 17-14.

  • Turning Point: Rookie Drew Bledsoe fails to convert a 4th and goal with a QB sneak. Replays reveal Bledsoe might have made it; the Steelers reliance on pure luck shows just how precarious their situation was. Bledsoe find himself at the pivotal moments of several succeding games.

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1995 – “I’ll match you a DB for every WR”

Saturday December 16, 1995 @ Three Rivers Stadium
Pittsburgh 41, New England 27

The Steelers defeat the Patriots 41-27 in a wild game that sees Curtis Martin become one of the few runners to rush for 100 yards against the Steelers.

  • Milestone: Bill Parcells activates every defensive back that he has in an attempt to combat the Steelers five wide receiver spread consisting of Yancy Thigpen, Ernie Mills, Andre Hastings, Charles Johnson, and rookie “Slash” Kordell Stewart.
  • Parcell’s gambit underscores just how much the Steelers offense under Ron Erhardt has evolved from “its run on first, run on second, and if its 3 or less, run on third” days.

1996 – Fog Bowl II Sends Donahoe and Cowher Heading to the Rocks

Sunday January 5, 1997 @ Foxboro Stadium
New England 28, Pittsburgh 3

Although visiting Foxboro for the first time since 1979, the Steelers enter the divisional playoff game as favorites. But Jerome Bettis plays hurt. Kordell Stewart fails to complete a single pass in relief of Mike Tomzack. A thick fog envelops the playing field, and this aptly describes the Steelers performance.

  • Milestone: Rod Woodson’s final game as a Pittsburgh Steeler.
  • Turning Point: Steelers Director of Football Operations Tom Donahue criticizes the team for coming out flat. This does not sit well with Bill Cowher, and if the Cowher-Donahu rift between did not start here, Fog Bowl II certainly made brought their feud into the public eye.

1997 – Bledsoe Beaten by the Zone Blitz

Saturday December 13th, 1997 @ Foxboro Stadium
Pittsburgh 24, New England 21

The 1997 versions of the Steelers and Patriots were about as evenly matched as you’ll ever see two NFL teams. The game features Bill Cowher going for it on fourth deep in his own territory early in the game. Despite converting this gamble, the Steelers never lead in regulation. Leading 21-13 late in the game, New England only needs to covert one more third down to run out the clock.

Dropping back into coverage on third down, defensive end Kevin Henry intercepts Bledsoe’s pass and returns it far down field. In the ensuing position Yancy Thigpen makes an acrobatic 4th down conversion, to set up a Steelers touchdown followed by a 2 point conversion that ties the game. Steelers win in overtime.

  • Milestone: This game is by far the most exciting Steelers win of the late 1990’s. In fact, it is arguably the last time the Steelers would “win a big game” during that period.

1997 Playoffs – Cowher Trumps Carroll in Chess Match

Saturday January 3rd, 1998 @ Three Rivers Stadium
Pittsburgh 7, New England 6

The 1997 Steelers and 1997 Patriots would meet again in the playoffs.

  • The return bout proved definitively that an almost metaphysical parity existed between these two teams.

Kordell Stewart scored the games’ only touchdown and team’s only points on a planned run in the first half. But the story is defense and field position, as Bill Cowher and Pete Carroll match wits throughout the contest. Late in the game, Cowher goes for it on fourth and goal and the Steelers are stuffed, but the defense holds for a 6-7 win.

  • Turning Point: The play of game, a sack/strip of Drew Bledsoe as time runs out is made by a man who would return to haunt the Steelers — none other than reserve rookie defensive lineman Mike Vrabel….
  • Milestone: This was Steelers last playoff win at Three Rivers Stadium.

1998 – The Game The Pats CANNOT GIVE Away

Sunday December 6, 1998 @ Three Rivers Stadium
New England 23, Pittsburgh 9

One week after the infamous “heads-tails” fiasco in Detroit the Steelers offense is beyond deflated, and the team loses 23-9.

  • Turning Point: Multiple turnovers, solid special teams, and excellent defense give the Steelers possession deep in New England territory numerous times in the second half, yet the team converts none of these into a touchdown. The tailspin which will eventually see the team lose its final five is in full force.

2001 AFC Championship – Yes, Special Team IS Part of the Game Too…

Sunday January 27, 2002 @ Heinz Field
New England 24, Pittsburgh 17

At this point the football world does not yet believe in Tom Brady, and most of Steelers Nation views Bill Belichick as a retread who the Steelers used to beat up on when he was dismally failing as head coach of the Cleveland Browns.

My how reality rears its ugly head…. The Patriots completely outplay the Steelers in the first half, but the story is Drew Bledsoe coming off the bench to lead a 40 yard 11 play drive that resulted in a touchdown with less than a minute to go in the first half, and two special teams breakdowns that resulted in 14 New England points, as the Patriots won 24 to 17.

  • Milestone: With his final throws as a Patriot, Drew Bledsoe gets revenge on the Steelers….
  • Turning Point: Kordell Stewart’s final playoff game. Stewart had a Pro Bowl season in 2001, stepping up big time when Jerome Bettis went down. His teammates voted him MVP. Although Stewart did not “lose” the game, he does throw 2 picks as the Steelers attempted to come back, showing that he is simply incapable of playing under pressure.

2002 – Steelers Dread the Spread

Monday September 9, 2002 @ Gillette Stadium
New England 30, Pittsburgh 14

The Steelers returned to Foxboro to start the year on Monday Night Football with revenge on their mind. Instead they got another rude awakening, as New England picked off Kordell Stewart’s first pass and did not even bother to attempt to run the ball in the second half as they won 30-14.

  • Turning Point: Bill Belichick decimates the Steelers secondary with the spread offense, revealing just how vulnerable the Steelers once vaunted pass defense has become. Although he lacks quality personnel, Tim Lewis’ failure to adjust over the next two years paves the way for his departure as defensive coordinator, and the Steelers commit to revamping their secondary, beginning with drafting Troy Polamalu

2004 – Rookie Roethlisberger is for Real…

Sunday October 31, 2004 @ Heinz Field
Pittsburgh 34, New England 20

The Patriots bring one of the NFL’s longest winning streaks to Heinz Field, but Ben Roethlisberger has his own streak, having won his first five starts. With a lot of help from the defense and Jerome Bettis and Duce Staley, Roethlisberger improves his streak winning streak to six.

  • Milestone: Although it would take at least two more years to shake the “game manager” label, Ben gets his first win over a legitimate contender.

2004 AFC Championship Game – …Roethlisberger is a Rookie After All

Sunday January 23 2005 @ Heinz Field
New England 41, Pittsburgh 27

The Steelers are at home, but everyone knows that that Patriots are the favorite. Tom Brady plays some flawless ball, while Ben looks every bit the rookie throwing three interceptions, losing his first game in 16 starts.

  • Turning Point: Bye, bye Burress! Plaxico Burress drops a difficult, but catchable pass in the end zone, yet has the gall to complain about not getting the ball enough. It is his last game as a Steeler. Addition by subtraction.

2005 – Ben Roethlisberger’s Prophetic Wisdom

Sunday September 25, 2005 @ Heinz Field
New England 23, Pittsburgh 20

The third game of the season brings the Patriots to Pittsburgh, and they leave winners 23-20.

  • Turning Point: Many in Steelers Nation see the loss as evidence that the Steelers cannot overcome the Patriots, and therefore the Super Bowl is out of reach. But the season ends with the Steelers bringing home their fifth Lombardi Trophy in Super Bowl XL. As Big Ben when the 2005 season started, “We can finish at worse than 15-1 and still be a better team.” Fortunately, Ben was right.

2007 – Will Someone TAPE Anthony Smith’s Mouth Shut?

Sunday December 9th, 2007 @ Gillette Stadium
New England 34, Pittsburgh 13

The Steelers take a 9-3 record into Foxboro against a Patriots team that is in route to the NFL’s first 16-0 regular season mark. Safety Anthony Smith (someone tape his mouth shut) guarantees a victory but gets torched by Tom Brady twice, as the Patriots won 34 to 13. The game was even more lopsided than the score might make it appear.

  • Milestone? The fact that the Steelers are forced to resort to trick plays on the goal line underlines the difficulty that Bruce Arians’ offense is having controlling the line of scrimmage.
  • Turning Point: After the game, Mike Tomlin observed: “If this is the measuring stick, we’re not even close.” He’s right. This game marks a very weak finish to an otherwise strong start for Mike Tomlin during his first year.

2008 – Prelude to Things to Come

Sunday November 30, 2008 @ Gillette Stadium
Pittsburgh 33, New England 10

The Steelers travel to Foxboro and defeat the Patriots for the first time there since 1997. The Steelers are dominant on both offense and defense, and while their special teams did allow for a couple of long run backs, they did also secure a bobbled kick return, which the offense turned into points.
Milestone/turning point? Well, its too hard to say if this game will present milestones or turning points, but this win marks:

  • Milestone – Mike Tomlin gets his first win over a legitmate contender, or at least a team that looked like a contender going into the game…. 🙂
  • Turning Point – For one game at least, the Steelers return to Steelers football, as Willie Parker, Mewelde Moore and Gary Russell team up to ensure that the Steelers dominate time of possession.

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2010 – Steelers Get A Good Old Fashioned Spanking

Sunday November 14, 2010 @ Heinz Field
New England 39, Pittsburgh 26

There’s no other way to describe the Patriots 39-26 defeat of the Steelers at Heinz Field. Forget about the Steelers late scoring surge, that was tantamount to crying “no I’ll be good!” at the point that the reality of an Old Fashioned Spanking sets in.

  • Turning Point — For as bad as this game was, it became a rallying point for the Steelers. Jeff Reed was cut. Dick LeBeau adjusted his defense to bring the corners closer to the receivers. Ziggy Hood entered what has been the best stretch of his career. The Steelers bounced back and ultimately made it to Super Bowl XLV.

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2011 – Steelers Exorcise a Demon Named “Brady”

Sunday October 30, 2011 @ Heinz Field
Pittsburgh 25, New England 17

The story before this game was Tom Brady’s ownership of the Pittsburgh Steelers. Mike Tomlin heard none of it. That story belonged to an earlier generation. The Steelers boasted the NFL’s number one defense, yet no true quarterback had tested them. And no quarterback was hotter than Tom Brady in the fall of ’11.

Tom Brady was supposed to bring the Steelers defense down to earth. Dick LeBeau and Carnell Lake elected not to pass that on their team.

The Steelers went on the attack, scoring on the opening drive, taking control of a game in a way they had not since the ’05 divisional playoffs vs. the Colts. Ben Roethlisberger threw 50 passes, hitting 9 different receivers as the Steelers dominated the tempo.

  • But the real story was on defense.

Dick LeBeau opened his bag of tricks, playing more press coverage that anyone had seen him play before or since. And it worked. Playing without James Farrior and James Harrison, the Steelers defense managed to harass Tom Brady, as LaMarr Woodley sacked him twice. Deion Branch and Wes Welker had been tearing up the NFL, but Dick LeBeau kept them both under 40 yards catching, with the help of youngsters like Cortez Allen.

The Steelers sealed the game when Brett Keisel strip sacked Brady, and Troy Polamalu knocked the ball out of bounds.

  • Turning Point – Unfortunately for Steelers Nation, this victory was to be the high mark for the ’11 Steelers. They followed with a heartbreaking last-minute loss to Baltimore and, while they would rebound to go 6-1 after the season, they literally limped into a Tebowing in the playoffs.
  • The game also marked the end of LaMarr Woodley’s days as a dominant pass rusher.

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2013 – Patriots, Brady KO Steelers Defense

Sunday November 3, 2013 @ Gillette Stadium
New England 55, Pittsburgh 31

By comparison, the 2010 beating the Steelers suffered at the hands of the Patriots seemed pleasant by comparison. Unlike the 2010 spanking, the Steelers actually made a show of it when it counted. The Patriots began the game jumping to 17-3 lead and held a 24-10 lead at half time.

  • But for a while in the second quarter, the Steelers feigned contender status

Two Ben Roethlisberger touchdowns to Jerricho Cotchery had the score tied at 24-24 midway through the fourth quarter before Tom Brady went on a rampage that devastated the Steelers defense. The Patriot’s offense exploded, putting 31 points on the board in a quarter and a half. The Steelers answered with a measly 7.

  • When the smoke cleared, the Patriots had scored 55 points, making it the worst defensive effort in Pittsburgh Steelers history.

The Steelers left Foxboro with a 2-6 record, and their 2013 season appeared to have already be spiraled hopelessly out of control.

  • Turning Point — Just has he had done in 2010, Mike Tomlin used a would be devastating loss as the spark to a rebound his season. The 2013 Steelers went 6-2 after that day and just barely missed the playoffs

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2015 – Missed Opportunities Cost Steelers Dearly

Thursday September 10th, 2015 @ Gillette Stadium
New England 28, Pittsburgh 21

Going into the 2015 season, everyone knew the Steelers defense was going to struggle based on the preseason performance of first year defensive coordinator Keith Butler. The season opener on Thursday night against the Patriots, with Tom Brady freshly freed from his Deflategate suspicion would confirm this fact.

  • But there’s a reason why we play games – the slaughter never came.

To be sure, Tom Brady and Rob Gronkowski got the better of the Steelers defense, but it wasn’t anywhere near the blood bath people had been predicting. The Patriots ran up 28 points on the Steelers defense, but a missed field goal, a dropped touchdown pass, and a failed Red Zone opportunity hurt the Steelers.

  • Even with those errors, the Steelers pulled within 7 early in the 4th quarter.

The Patriots responded with a Brady to Gronkowski hookup that put the game away before the Steelers scored a face-saving touchdown with 2 seconds remaining.

  • Milestone: The Cortez Allen era at cornerback, which had begun in 2011 against New England, ended with this game.
  • Turning Point: Will Allen and Bud Dupree sacked Tom Brady, signaling the return to pressuring the passer under Keith Butler

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2016 – Landry Jones Squares off Against Tom Brady

Sunday October 23rd, 2016 @ Heinz Field
New England 27, Pittsburgh 16

The prospect of Landry Jones vs. Tom Brady doesn’t exactly instill fear into Bill Belichick nor should it. But with Ben Roethlisberger out, Mike Tomlin didn’t hesitate to turn to the man whom he and Todd Haley had groomed as Big Ben’s understudy.

The Patriots jumped to a 14 to 0 lead early, but Landry Jones led the Steelers to score 13 unanswered points. As they had done far too many times in the past, the Patriots Gronked the Steelers, with a Brady to Gronkowski hook up improving New England’s lead to 20-13 late in the third quarter.

Chris Boswell cut that lead to 16 points early in the 4th quarter, but another Brady-Rob Gronkowski strike set up LeGarrette Blount touchdown that would effectively end the game.

  • Turning Point: Going into the game, Steel City Insider’s Jim Wexell reported how Mike Tomlin, Todd Haley, and Keith Butler were, in effect, trying to get their team to follow Bill Belichick’s “Do Your Job” mantra. It would take a few games for that lesson to set in, but it sparked a Steelers winning streak that is still in progress heading into the AFC Championship game…

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Take a moment to leave a comment to share your thoughts or memories on Steelers-Patriots contests of the past.

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8 thoughts on “The Steelers vs Patriots History — Milestones and Turning Points

  1. Everytime we play them i hear steelers defense this, steelers defense that… cut the crap… steelers won just once in the last 10 years… my word Pats 24 Steelers 10

  2. Hard to know how to respond to the first post. “Cut the crap?”

    Where’s that coming from? This post offered no predictions of Steelers victory or of defensive domination.

    In fact its focus was on the milestones that have occured when the Steelers have played the Pats, and its pretty clear that those milestones in recent years have not been happy ones for Steelers fans.

    In defense of the Steel Curtain, I will say that this best Steelers defense that Billy B. has had to go up against.

  3. The defense has been great the last few games but the offense, starting with big Ben, looks like heck. The New England pass rush isn’t Cincinnati’s and unless they’ve finally come up with some quick pass plays that will work and convinced Rothlesberger he can’t hold the ball for six minutes this game is going to have a very bad outcome for the Steelers.

  4. THE STEELERS DEFENSE IS A SUPER SPECIAL THIS YEAR. THIS DEFENSE CAN BE SAID TO BE RESPONSIBLE FOR 5 OF THE 8 WINS THIS TEAM HAS SO FAR THIS YEAR. THIS DEFENSE WILL ALSO BE THE REASON WE BEAT THE PATRIOTS THIS SUNDAY. MY ADVICE TO CASSEL, GET READY!!!!!

  5. Pingback: 5 Smoldering Questions On the Pittsburgh Steelers, Week 1 | Going Deep:

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