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The Pittsburgh Steelers 2 Greatest Victories Over the New England Patriots

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The Pittsburgh Steelers 2 Greatest Victories Over the New England Patriots

The Pittsburgh Steelers will play their home opener in the newly minted Acrisure Stadium against an old and hated rival, the New England Patriots. While the Steelers have seen more success than any franchise in the NFL since the merger, the Patriots cost the Steelers an additional four Lombardi Trophies, but there is certainly a question as to how legitimate those wins were.

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A rookie Ben Roethlisberger takes the field in his first Steelers vs. Patriots game in 2004 / Credit:  NFL Films

2004:  21 and done

Ben Roethlisberger had taken the NFL by storm with the most outstanding rookie season by a rookie quarterback since Dan Marino in 1983. The 5-1 Steelers and Roethlisberger were going up against their nemesis, Tom Brady and the defending Super Bowl Champion Patriots who were riding an NFL record 21-game win streak. It was Halloween, and with Patriots coach Bill Belichick cooking up defenses that limited rookie quarterbacks to a 40.6 passer rating during his tenure to date, it was scary.

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Steelers Plaxico Burress and Hines Ward celebrate the former TD against the Patriots in 2004 / Credit: CBS Sports

However, Roethlisberger didn’t get the memo he was supposed to be afraid. When the Patriots shutdown cornerback Ty Law limped off the field in the first quarter with the Patriots leading 3-0, two plays later, Roethlisberger dropped back and stood strong in the face of a heated rush. He took the hit, but the 47-yard TD bomb to Plaxico Burress made any pain disappear as the Steelers took a 7-3 lead. Only two plays after that, a Joey Porter strip-sack on Brady led to another Roethlisberger to Burress TD. The ever-arrogant Brady threw a pick-six to Deshea Townsend on the next snap to put the Steelers firmly in control at 21-3.

Roethlisberger’s name was truly cemented as a legitimate rising star with an 18/46 for 196-yard, 2 TD performance. Per the 2004 Steelers success formula, they went about the rest of the game pounding it out on the ground as Duce Staley finished with 125 yards rushing before ceding to Jerome Bettis to finish off the game with 65 rushing yards and a game-sealing TD in the 34-20 victory. Porter’s eight tackles, three sacks and two forced fumbles, both of which led directly to Steelers touchdowns, earned him AFC Defensive Player of the Week. And the Steelers cruised to a franchise-best 15-1 regular season record.

Aftermath:  The Steelers and Patriots would meet again in the AFC Championship for the second time in three years and the Patriots won 41-27 in controversial fashion. As the defeated Steelers walked off with their heads down and everyone expecting Jerome Bettis to retire, the heartbroken veteran was consoled and received a promise by a rookie.

Jerome Bettis per NFL Films:

“Ben tells me that he ‘was so sorry we lost and give me one more year and I will get you to a Super Bowl.’ I just thought ‘yeah okay’ he’s being a rookie and emotional,” Bettis said.”

The next day, Bettis addressed the team to thank them. There wasn’t a dry eye in the room. Hines Ward particularly teared up to the media as he stated he ‘wanted to win it more for him than for me because he deserves to be a champion.’

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Ben Roethlisberger consoles Jerome Bettis after the heartbreaking 2004 AFC Championship Game loss / Credit: Photo NFL Films

Bettis ultimately decided to come back, and it showed just how much the Steelers developed the type of chemistry that wins championships as the team came together like never before. Roethlisberger kept that promise when he handed a fourth-game ball to the Bus as the Steelers won Super Bowl XL.

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Ben Roethlisberger hands Jerome Bettis a 4th game ball to signal his kept promise to deliver a Super Bowl upon his coming back for the final season / Credit: NFL Films

1997:  An Epic Battle for the Bye Week

Kordell Stewart was fresh off a 5-TD performance to defeat the Denver Broncos and with a bye week on the line, attempted to knock off the defending AFC Champion Patriots in Foxboro. The last time the two teams had faced off, it was the Fog Bowl II in the 1996 playoffs and an easy win by the Patriots.

This was a different Steelers team, led by Jerome Bettis, Yancey Thigpen and Stewart. But behind coach Pete Carroll, the Patriots were able to dial up a scheme that accomplished something no one had done all year and bottled up Bettis. The Bus was limited to only 80 yards on 28 carries, with a meager 2.86 y/a. So, the onus fell on the passing game, and it got exciting. Stewart was called on to throw a career-high 48 times and the Patriots were making the Steelers work for it as Stewart was having difficulty finding a rhythm through the first half and held a 14-0 lead with 3:57 to play in the first half.

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Steelers Kordell Stewart vs. the Patriots in the Week 16 OT 24-21 Steelers comeback win / Credit Getty Images

The Steelers offense got a spark as Stewart completed 4 passes for 33 yards to Thigpen, Mark Bruener and Charles Johnson while also taking off for a 14-yard run. Chan Gailey dialed up a draw to Bettis, who ran with a combination of footwork and ferocity as it took four Patriots defenders to finally take the Bus down, who still came only a yard shy of carrying Ty Law on his back into the end zone. Stewart dived over the top for his 11th rushing touchdown on the year (one shy of the NFL record) to put the Steelers back into the game at halftime.

A pair of Norm Johnson field goals in the third quarter cut the Patriots’ lead to 14-13 and momentum appeared to be shifting towards the Steelers in the 4th quarter. but the Patriots found a lucky charm as Bledsoe threw it up for grabs to Troy Brown who was completely covered by Carnell Lake. But Dave Meggett flew in from nowhere to snag the errant pass and run it down for a 49-yard TD.

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Jerome Bettis nearly carried 4 Patriot defensive players into the endzone on his 17-yard rush to set up a Steelers TD / Credit:  NBC Sports

As the fourth quarter ticked down to the two-minute warning, the Steelers were down 21-13 and were in impossible trouble as they had no timeouts, and the Patriots were on the cusp of running time out and clinching the bye week. The Steelers were in a precarious position. They were competing for the bye week, had yet to clinch the AFC Central Division and a loss would see the Jacksonville Jaguars leapfrog the Steelers for first place. All it would take was a completion on third-and-seven and the Steelers’ dream season of 1997 almost became a nightmare.

Thankfully, Drew Bledsoe came to the “rescue” as his foolhardy pass in the flat was anticipated by Steelers defensive lineman Kevin Henry, who returned it 31 yards. It was such a huge play at the time, that it was unofficially touted as the “Immaculate Interception” by many fans.

However, it wasn’t won yet and the Patriots defense forced the Steelers into a fourth-and-seven at the Patriot 15-yard line. At this point, Yancey Thigpen rose to the occasion beating Ty Law to make an incredible game-saving catch and convert the first down. Two plays later as the entire Patriot defense bit on the play action to Bettis, Stewart lofted a TD to Bruener. Needing a two-point conversion to head to OT, Stewart rolled to his right and once again Thigpen made a great grab to ostensibly send the game to OT.

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Kordell Stewart connects with Yancey Thigpen on a 2-point conversion in the Steelers’ 1997 week 16 win over the Patriots / Credit: NBC Sports

The Steelers won the toss and drove down to the Patriot 13-yard line in only eight plays. Johnson kicked the game-winner to send the Steelers into Week 17 in order to clinch a playoff spot and bye week.

The Longest Tie-Breaker in NFL History

In a bizarre scenario and much to the Steelers players surprise, the Steelers still had not officially clinched the AFC Central Division yet. It would be dependent on the outcome of the Tennessee game. The Steelers and Jaguars had gone down to the fifth tie-breaker, having split the head-to-head and identical division, common opponents and conference winning percentage. The fifth tie-breaker, net division points, meant the Steelers had not lost by 66 points. They lost by ten points while resting starters and had perhaps the most awkward AFC Central Division Championship celebration ever.

Aftermath:  The Steelers and Patriots would face off again in the AFC Divisional round, where they would win in a 7-6 nailbiter that again went down to the last minute. The hero in that game was none other than Mike Vrabel, who strip-sacked Bledsoe with a Jason Gildon recovery to seal the win.

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Joel Steed and Levon Kirkland get physical in the Steelers/Patriots 1997 Divisional Playoff / Credit: CBS Sports

The Steelers advanced to the AFC Championship where they lost another heartbreaker to the Broncos in a game that haunted Steelers head coach Bill Cowher, who thought the 1997 team was more than special.

Bill Cowher, per Heart and Steel:

“That 1997 team might have been the best team we had in my fifteen seasons in Pittsburgh,” Cowher said.

What other games do you think to add to the list of the greatest Steelers wins over the Patriots? Leave your picks below.

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PMP; CSM; CSPO and host of the PMI-TB Agile Podcast. A lifelong Steelers fan, I had the chance of a lifetime when I was able to celebrate Super Bowl XLIII with the team. I love talking everything Steelers from the old days to the new and look forward to working with the team to grow this platform to be the premier Steelers site.

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