Did the 30-23 1985 Steelers Redskins Loss “Officially” Begin 80’s Mediocrity?

[Editors Note:  Tony Defeo expands on Steelers history vs Washington Redskins ahead of Pittsburgh’s 2016 opener on Monday Night Football @ FedEx Field]

Redskins 30, Steelers 23, November 24, 1985, Three Rivers Stadium 

After reaching the AFC Championship game a year earlier, the Steelers were limping along over the first half of the 1985 season, with a 3-5 record.Quarterback Mark Malone literally was limping, after injuring his foot in a loss to the Bengals in Week 8 and would be out of action an indefinite amount of time.

However, Pittsburgh responded behind veteran David Woodley and rattled off three-straight victories to improve to 6-5. Much like a year earlier, when the Steelers won the old AFC Central with a 9-7 record, it wasn’t going to take a double-digit win total to repeat as division champions. Unfortunately, Woodley came down with a stomach virus prior to the Week 12 match-up with the Redskins at Three Rivers Stadium, and third-stringer Scott Campbell was thrust into the spotlight.

 

Mark Malone, David Woodley, Scott Campbell, 1985 Steelers quarterbacks

NFL.com rated the ’85 Steelers quarterbacks as 5th worst trio ever. Photo Credit: NFL.com

Things didn’t start off well, as Ken Jenkins returned the opening kickoff 95 yards down to the Pittsburgh three-yard line. Running back George Rogers finished things off by plunging in from the one-yard line to make it 7-0, Redskins before most in attendance had even found their seats.

After a 22-yard Gary Anderson field goal cut Washington’s deficit to four, the special teams onslaught continued for the visitors, when Otis Wonsley blocked a Harry Newsome punt, and the Redskins took over at the Pittsburgh 19. Moments later, Jay Schroeder, like Campbell, making his first career start, found tight end Clint Didier for an 18-yard touchdown pass to extend Washington’s lead to 14-3.

Pittsburgh trailed 17-3 in the second quarter, when Campbell threw two quick touchdown passes–one to receiver Louis Lipps for five yards, and one to running back Rich Erenberg for nine-yards–to tie the score at 17.

However, an interception by Campbell in the final moments of the first half along with a personal foul on defensive lineman Keith Willis paved the way for a 39-yard field goal for Mosley, and the Redskins led by three at the break.

Running back John Riggins scored on a one-yard touchdown in the third quarter to give the Redskins a 10-point lead. Pittsburgh’s offense could only muster a couple of Anderson field goals in the second half, as Campbell threw two more picks, and Washington held on for a 30-23 victory.

For the day, Campbell completed 15 of 25 passes for 224 yards, two touchdowns and three interceptions. “Its a tough situation to be thrown in there like that, but you’ve got to be ready to play,” said Campbell of his first career start on very short notice. 

  • The loss dropped the Steelers to 6-6, and they never recovered, finishing out of the playoffs with a 7-9 record (their first losing season in 14 years).

Whenever I think back on the early-to-mid ’80s Steelers who were still trudging along after their Super Bowl years, the 1985 Steelers Redskins loss seems signal the turning-point of the 1980’s Steelers from still competitive team to a team that flirted with being downright abysmal….

…Over the next three seasons, the Steelers team would finish with records of 6-10, 6-6 and 5-11 in non-strike games over the next three seasons. The slide into mediocrity really did start with the 1985 Steelers Redskins loss.

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2 thoughts on “Did the 30-23 1985 Steelers Redskins Loss “Officially” Begin 80’s Mediocrity?

  1. Tony,
    Did you ever see the QB Teases episode of NFL Top 10 on NFL Network? Mark Malone should have been included. He led the Steelers to the AFC Title Game in 1984 (after he beat my team, the Broncos), and then comes out and throws five TD passes in Week 1 against the Colts in a 45-3 romp. After that: Nothing.

    • No I have not seen this, but you’re right, Malone did tease. But in that respect he is like a lot of other quarterbacks. One of the things I always tell people who get excited about a young QB, is that you need to see him produce for two seasons before taking him seriously.

      In the 1990’s, a couple of strong starts by Scott Mitchell in relief of injured Dan Marino made Mitchell the first “hot commodity” to reach free agency. He was like the 4th or 5th highest paid QB in 1994.

      Something else happened with a Jaguars backup (Rob Johnson, I believe.) In the 00’s, the Rams thought it would be a really good idea to dump Kurt Warner after Marc Bugler strung together several strong starts. Remember Colt McCoy in Cleveland? I admit, the kid played well then disappeared (OK, he had a serious concussion.)

      Thanks for contributing.

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