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The biggest upset wins in modern Pittsburgh Steelers history

Where Tomlin’s victory over the Bucs ranks in team history.

Syndication: Beaver County Times Michael Longo/For USA Today Network / USA TODAY NETWORK

The Pittsburgh Steelers 20-18 victory over Tom Brady’s Tampa Bay Buccaneers is the biggest upset so far in the 2022 NFL season. For some fans, it was the biggest Steelers underdog success of their lives. So where does it rank in team history?

Here are the five biggest upset wins of the Bill Cowher/ Mike Tomlin eras.

#5) Steelers at Indianapolis Colts 01/15/06 (spread 8.5)

This 2005 AFC Divisional playoff game has been immortalized by “The Tackle,” Ben Roethlisberger’s Immaculate Redemption after a goal line fumble from Jerome Bettis. But this was a game that, on paper, should have never gone in the Steelers’ favor. The Colts were 14-2 in the regular season, led by Peyton Manning. The Steelers clawed into the playoffs as a 6th seed by winning their last four games. Then they upset the Cincinnati Bengals in the Wild Card round, when Carson Palmer got Kimo’ed.

#4) Steelers at Buffalo Bills 01/02/05 (spread 9.5)

The 2004 Steelers were 14-1 going into the season finale. So why was this spread so big? It’s because the Buffalo Bills needed a win to make the playoffs, and Pittsburgh already locked up the No. 1 seed. Ben Roethlisberger and Jerome Bettis were inactive. Defensive stars like Joey Porter and James Farrior would play little. All signs pointed to a Bills victory on paper, but this would become a breakout moment for undrafted rookie Willie Parker, who ran for 102 yards and a score. Plus, a backup linebacker named James Harrison would get a scoop and score. This would be Drew Bledsoe’s last game in a Bills uniform.

#3) Steelers vs. Tampa Bay Buccaneers 10/16/22 (spread 9.5)

At times, the spread for this game reached 10 points, before finally settling at 9.5. Tom Brady vs. a Steelers secondary that was missing its top three cornerbacks and superstar safety Minkah Fitzpatrick. Add the current struggles of the Steelers’ offense, and it’s surprising that this spread wasn’t even higher.

#2) Steelers at Jacksonville Jaguars 10/01/00 (spread 11)

A struggling Pittsburgh team came to Jacksonville with an 0-3 record. QB Kent Graham went down a week earlier with a hip injury, and Kordell Stewart did not spark much confidence from the Vegas oddsmakers. But the defense elevated the platform, sacking the quarterback seven times (including two each from Jason Gildon & Aaron Smith), knocking out Mark Brunell, and holding Fred Taylor to 24 yards. Later this season, in the rematch, Taylor would run for 234 yards and 3 scores.

#1) Steelers at Houston Oilers 09/06/92 (spread 12.5)

A 35-year-old Bill Cowher made his head coaching debut against a Warren Moon Oilers team that had been to the playoffs in each of the previous five years. Moon was considered one of the best, but Cowher proved to be craftier, converting a fourth-and-four run and a fake punt pass. However, the defining stat that day was Moon’s five interceptions. Two were to Rod Woodson, including a key red-zone pick in the fourth quarter.

I haven’t forgotten about the Chuck Noll era. Obviously, the dynasty teams were rarely underdogs, and data before the Super Bowl era is less readily available, but the Bubby Brister years delivered some of Pittsburgh’s biggest upset wins.

Steelers vs. Vikings 09/24/89 (spread 9)

This was the bounce back game, after being outscored 92-10 in Weeks 1 and 2.

Steelers at Cleveland Browns 10/15/89 (spread 10)

The revenge game for the Week 1 51-0 blowout was pretty strange. The Browns outgained the Steelers on the ground and in the air. The Steelers were penalized 10 times for 121 yds. Yet, the Steelers never trailed.

This 1989 team was also a ten point underdog in the playoffs against Denver and just barely lost by one.

Steelers at Houston Oilers 12/04/88 (spread 10)

It was Bubby Brister’s first starting season and Noll’s worst outing since his first season. The 3-10 Steelers leaned on Louis Lipps, who racked up 166 yards and two touchdowns, including a 65-yard score and an 80-yards score.

Kyle Chrise is the host of the podcast “What Yinz Talkin’ Bout.” New episodes drop every Thursday at Noon ET on Behind the Steel Curtain