The Pittsburgh Steelers have only played 13 Wild Card Games in their history, but they all elicit memories in Steelers fans. In those contests, the Steelers have won only six of those games. While only one of those wins led to a Super Bowl victory, none of the teams the Men of Steel lost to went on to win a Super Bowl. BTSC begins a look back at the entire catalog of Wild Card Games in Part 2 of a two-part series.
Here’s a brief tale of the tape:
Points: Steelers 379, Opponents 353
Wins: Steelers 6, Opponents 7
Home Record: Steelers 3, Opponents 4
Road Record: Steelers 3, Opponents 3
Biggest Win Margin: 28 - Steelers 42, Colts 14 (December 29, 1996)
Biggest Loss Margin: 21 - Chiefs 42, Steelers 21 (January 16, 2022)
Closest Game: 2 - Jaguars 31, Steelers 29 (January 5, 2008), Steelers 18, Bengals 16 (January 9, 2016)
Overtime Games: 3 - Opponents 2, Steelers 1
January 8, 2012 - Denver Broncos 29, Pittsburgh Steelers 23 OT (2011 AFC Wild Card Playoff Game)
The Steelers have always had problems with the Denver Broncos, but the 7th postseason meeting between the two AFC teams found the teams split at three wins a piece. The 12-4 Steelers were the AFC’s 5th seed and a Wild Card due to losing a tiebreaker to their division foe, the Baltimore Ravens. The 8-8 Broncos were home dogs, but the power of home field and Tim Tebow was strong back then for a minute. In turn, the Steelers were weakened on both offense and defense with Ben Roethlisberger nursing a bad ankle, and Ryan Clark pulled as a coach’s decision due to the high elevation in Colorado and possessing the a blood trait disorder could be very dangerous when combined.
Pittsburgh scored on the opening drive and later in the quarter, both on Shaun Suisham field goals from 45 and 38. But Denver, which gained a mere 8 yards in the first quarter, made up for it in Quarter No. 2. To start the second quarter, Tebow went deep for a 51-yard hookup on 3rd and 12 with Demaryius Thomas. Then the Heisman winner gave Denver a lead with a 30-yard touchdown pass to Eddie Royal over Willie Gay in the corner of the end zone. It was the first touchdown for the Broncos in 22-straight possessions. After a Steelers punt, Tebow and Thomas did it again to the tune of 58 yards with No. 15 capping off the drive with 10:36 to go in the half with an 8-yard run to give the Broncs a 14–6 lead. A pick of Ben by Quinton Carter set up a Matt Prater field goal of 20, who followed up with another of 28 to put the home team up 20-6. With 1:05 remaining before intermission, Big Ben on completions to Antonio Brown and Emmanuel Sanders advanced his offense to the Broncos 32-yard line. But on third down, a fumbled snap resulted in a 23-yard loss squashed their quest for points before halftime.
Fortunes improved on the first drive for the Men of Steel in the second half. After the defense forced a punt, Issac Redman (121 rushing yards on the day, a career high) ripped off a dash of 32 yards for the big play in a drive that ended with a Mike Wallace touchdown run on an end-around, making for a more favorable scoreboard display of 20–13. Denver countered with another Prater true kick that was aided by a 32-yard pass interference penalty on Ike Taylor. However, another big run by Redman, this time for 28-yards, set the stage for a third Suisham three-pointer to put the Steelers back in range at 23–16 with 10:53 left. Things got exciting for Steelers fans with 7:35 left in regulation when Ryan Mundy rocked Willis McGahee to jar the ball loose for LaMarr Woodley to recover at the Steelers 45-yard line. Despite being sacked immediately by Brodrick Bunkley, Ben drove the black and gold down the field with a 31-yard strike to Jerricho Cotchery. The defense stiffened on the next series to give Mike Tomlin’s team a chance to get in range for the win, but the offensive line slacked allowing Ben to be sacked three times by Von Miller, Elvis Dumervil and Robert Ayers as the Steelers couldn’t close it out and time expired in the fourth quarter with the score 23-23.
With the game being the first-ever playoff game to go into overtime under the new rules giving both teams the opportunity to not lose by a field goal, the coin toss still loomed huge as it took Denver just one play to win when Tebow exposed Ike who bit on an 80-yard touchdown pass to Demaryius Thomas. The game goes down as one of the bigger upsets in Steelers postseason history and quite possibly an even bigger embarrassment for getting Tebowed.
January 3, 2015 - Baltimore Ravens 30, Pittsburgh Steelers 17 (2014 AFC Wild Card Playoff Game)
Going into this postseason showdown between bitter division rivals, the AFC North champion Steelers and the third place Ravens had already squared off thrice with the black and gold winning all three of the playoff showdowns between the two of them. But this was a much different situation with Le’Veon Bell injured the week before against Cincy, LeGarrette Blount cut after going AWOL in Tennesse after being disillusioned with his lack of playing time, and Kevin Colbert being forced to sign street free agent Ben Tate in hopes of the veteran being able to carry the load.
The Steelers scored first with a 43-yard drive that ended on a 45-yard Shaun Suisham field goal, but Baltimore responded with a 9-play, 80-yard drive that gave them a 7–3 lead on Bernard Pierce’s 5-yard TD scamper with 12:28 left in the second quarter. Roethlisberger responded immediately with an 18-yard completion to Antonio Brown and a 30-yard toss to Heath Miller, It wasn’t enough to get in the end zone though, and Shaun Suisham’s toe produced a 22-yard field goal. Joe Flacco drove his team to respond with a 28-yard field goal that Justin Tucker could make a coma while encased in a body cast to make the score 10–6. With :42 seconds left in the half, Suisham went for a 47-yarder and the out-manned Steelers held on 10–9 going into halftime.
To open the second half, a Flacco completion to Torrey Smith on 3rd and 12, allowed field goal fest to continue to everybody’s chagrin with a 45-yard effort by Tucker. Then the Steelers must have collectively decided that field goal fest was cliche’ and commenced to punt instead. Following suit, Flacco didn’t think a field goal was cool either, so he instead led a drive that ended in a touchdown of the 11-yard variety to Torrey Smith to further distress the home crowd as their team trailed 20–9.
Rookie Stephon Tuitt provided hope early in the fourth when he recovered a ball dropped by Justin Forsett on the enemy 45. Big Ben completed a 44-yard beauty to AB on the next play, and then got the ball to Martavis for a 6-yard score. When a 2PC attempt to AB failed, the Steelers at least had consolation that they were within one score at 20–15. However, their point-scoring potential was spent. A Tucker 52-yard field goal made the tally three points greater and then Terrell Suggs intercepted a Big Ben offering and Flacco put the nail in the coffin with a 21-yard touchdown pass to tight end Crockett Gillmore on the very next play. Ben responded with a last gasp attempt reaching the Baltimore 14-yard line, but came Darian Stewart ended the nonsense that was hope by thieving No. 7 in the end zone after a Dri Archer touchdown catch was negated by a holding call on Kelvin Beachum. There was one tiny blip of joy left when Shamarko Thomas blocked Sam Koch’s punt through the back of the Heinz Field end zone for a safety. But the turnover prone Steelers had a rare gaffe by Heath and Stewart recovered to thrust the dagger in the hearts of everybody bleeding black and gold viewing from near and a far.
In the end, Jon Harbaugh’s team forced three turnovers and scored on 6-of-9 possessions to triumph over their rivals to secure the 30-15 victory, the Ravens moved on to succumb to New England, as the Steelers learned a valuable lesson in the paramount necessity of depth, especially at the running back position.
January 9, 2016 - Steelers 18, Bengals 16 (2015 AFC Wild Card Playoff Game)
This game is one of the most infamous and satisfying to Steelers fans in the history of the rivalry. In a rain storm and vicious battle between two bitter rivals, defense ruled the start as both teams forced turnovers early on when Vontaze Burfict, one of the most-hated of villains ever in the eyes of Steeler Nation, forced a fumble from the grasp of Markus Wheaton that safety George Iloka recovered. But Mike Tomlin’s defense got it back a few plays later, when Bengals QB A. J. McCarron was picked off by Antwon Blake. The Steelers ended up the only team to put points on the board and led 6-0 at halftime after two field goals (39, 30) by Chris Boswell.
On the opening drive of the second half, the Bengals were on the move and destined to score when Jeremy Hill broke off a nifty 38-yard run to the Steelers’ 29. However, Jarvis Jones put a stop to all of that momentum when he cracked McCarron and Cam Thomas recovered the ball and also fumbled allowing William Gay to picked it up and return it to glory. But replay spoiled the celebration when Thomas was deemed down by contact before the ball squirted free. It got worse as Gay was nailed for excessive celebration on a play that never existed. But the Steelers shook it off and a Martavis Bryant 44-yard run on an end-around set up Boswell’s third good kick to extend the lead to 9–0. Following a punt, BTR completed a 60-yard pass to AB to get to the Bengals’ 10, From there, the Men of Steel finally broke the plane of the end zone with an acrobatic catch of spectacular proportions by Bryant. But the 2PC failed and the Steelers led 15–0. Cincinnati responded with a drive to the Steelers’ 23, but committed another turnover when running back Giovani Bernard lost a fumble that was forced and recovered by Ryan Shazier, who knocked the Bengal running back out completely and sidelined No. 25 for the game’s remainder. The crowd thought it was a dirty hit, but Shazier was not penalized as boos rained down from the crowd.
On the last play of the third, Roethlisberger had left the game after a dirty hit by Vontaze Burfict and a loss of 12 yards that injured No. 7’s shoulder. The Steelers unraveled from there. A.J. McCarron, starting for an injured Andy Dalton, led the Bengals back with 16 unanswered via a 1-yard TD burst by Hill, ineffectiveness by Landry Jones in relief of Ben, a 42-yard pass interference penalty on Will Allen trying to defend A.J. Green, and a Mike Nugent 36-yard field goal, making the score 15–10 with 5:17 left in the game. Then after another Steelers punt, Marvin Lewis’ team converted a 4th and 2 with a McCarron pass to Marvin Jones. Then on 3rd-and-7, McCarron went long to Green for a 25-yard touchdown throw. Their two-point conversion failed as weland the black and orange found themseves with a 16–15 lead with 1:45 left.
Then it got crazy. Ryan Shazier would force another turnover, this time Hill was trying to run out the clock after a Burfict interception of the impotent Landry Jones. Burfict ran his team into the tunnell in a bizarre celebration that inexplicably was not flagged. But in the most improbable series of events, Roethlisberger returned despite barely being able to lift his arm mote tyhan half way and led the Steelers down the field. Then forget crazy, it got downright insane. On a pass over the middle to Antonio Brown, Burfict was flagged for unnecessary roughness on a brutal and concussing blow to Brown’s head. To make matters worse for Cincy, the notorious Adam “Pac-Man” Jones got into an altercation with Joey Porter, who as an assistant coach shouldn’t really have been on the field, but was checking on AB. After 30 yards in penalties, Boswell came on for the game-winning field goal from 35 yards out, and Boz connected to end one of the ugliest and dirtiest games ever played. In the end the Steelers celebrated like Kool and the Gang were there encouraging them to do so, while the only thing left for the Bengals was the crying and another star in the form of “Crying Bengals Lady” was born.
January 8, 2017 - Steelers 30, Dolphins 12 (2016 AFC Wild Card Playoff Game)
Le’Veon Bell finally got a chance to contribute in the postseason and it was well-worth the wait. With the Heinz Field faithful buzzing, the Killer B’s stung the mammals from South Beach in a rematch of a 30-15 embarrassment in the regular season in muggy Miami. This time around, home field advantage belonged to the winners of eight-straight on their home turf, frigid Heinz Field. The Steelers wasted no time getting up on the visitors early. Antonio Brown (converted short Ben Roethlisberger passes for 50 and 62 yard touchdowns on the Men of Steel’s initial two drives. After a Miami field goal on the next possession, the Steelers hit pay dirt again. Le’Veon Bell (2 TDs), who set a franchise playoff record a with 167 yards, pounded his way in from the one with more than three minutes remain in the first. Miami wasn’t going away though and Andrew Franks second field goal was proof of that. The Floridian guests also forced a Michael Thomas interception of Ben Roethlisberger on the next series, but a James Harrison sack and subsequent fumble recovered by Stephon Tuitt at the Steelers 8, wasted it and the halftime clock came due with the Steelers leading 20-6.
In the second half, the Steelers kept pounding away at the Dolphins, with a fumble recovery by L.T. Walton on a Mike Mitchell sack of quarterback Mike Moore and a Ryan Shazier interception. The Steelers turned both turnovers into ten points and a 30-6 advantage after a Boswell field goal and Bell’s second TD run (8 yards) on the afternoon. Miami scored late in the fourth, but the two-point conversion failed. Andrew Gase’s team had another chance to creep back, but the Steelers defense shut the aqua and orange down. Pittsburgh sacked Moore five times, forced turnovers on three consecutive possessions and Bud Dupree’s second quarter hit of Moore was jaw dropping and bone rattling. Roethlisberger finished 13/18 for 189 yards with two TDS and two INTs, but more disconcerting was the walking boot on his right foot. Seven would be okay the following week in the win over Kansas City. The Steelers would ultimately lose in the AFC Championship to New England, but the once 4-5 black and gold were for real in the frozen air of the Steel City on this day.
January 10, 2021 - Browns 48, Steelers 37 (2020 AFC Wild Card Playoff Game)
This one is too brutal to write too much about. If you are a masochist and want details and lowlights, take a peek at the disaster below. Just know that the Steelers surrendered the lead for good on the game’s very first play, when a Maurkice Pouncey snap sailed over a Ben Roethlisberger’s and ended up in the end zone with Karl Joseph’s recovery making the score 7-0. Mike Tomlin’s black and gold found themselves down 28-0 before scoring their first points and 35-10 at the half. Five turnovers, including four interceptions thrown by Big Ben (47/68 for 501 yards, 4 TDs and 4 INTs) doomed the Steelers. A furious comeback was never close to enough, but Chase Claypool pulled down two fourth quarter touchdown passes. What makes this game harder to stomach was Browns’ Head Coach Kevin Stefanski in quarantine due to Covid-19. A season that started out promising at 11-0, ended in drastic debauchery.
January 16, 2022 - Kansas City Chiefs 42, Pittsburgh Steelers 21 (AFC Wild Card Playoff Game)
The most unlikely playoff team in the 2021 NFL campaign was the 9-7-1 Steelers with Ben Roethlisberger getting one last improbable trip to the playoffs against the team that destroyed his black and gold a mere three weeks earlier. The double-digit underdogs from the Steel City found themselves in Kansas City to take on the defending AFC Champion Chiefs.
Both the Steelers and Chiefs started the game with three-and-outs for their opening drives. That was expected from Mike Tomlin’s team, but a scalp scratcher when Andy Reid’s team faltered out of the gate with just one first down in their first two drives. When Mecole Hardman fielded a Pressley Harvin III punt and returned said punt back 49 yards to set up the Chiefs for their first score, amazingly enough though, Patrick Mahomes’ pass was tipped into the air and intercepted by Devin Bush. However, Pittsburgh’s offense was only able to get a first down, their first of the game, from the defensive efforts.
The second quarter started with the Steelers having the ball, but they again were unable to put anything positive together, On KC’s next drive, Hardman received a direct snap, and the handoff to the running back was mishandled and pandemonium ensued as T.J. Watt came up with the football and raced into the end zone for the touchdown and a 7-0 lead with 10:41 left in the half. Unfortunately, the Trent Jordan touchdown roused up the Kansas City scoring machine, because Patrick Mahomes put together magic on the next drive as No. 15 hit Travis Kelce, Tyreek Hill and capped it off with an underhand flip to Jerick McKinnon on 2nd and goal for the touchdown. Harrison Butker’s point after tied the game 7-7 with 5:45 left in the second quarter. Despite being surehanded until the last couple of games of the ‘21 campaign, Diontae Johnson had a couple drops in the first half, and none bigger than the 3rd and 2 drop which gave the ball back to the Chiefs with over 4 minutes left in the half. Mahomes hooked up with Kelce and then it was McKinnon breaking free to get the Chiefs into the red-zone before the two-minute warning. Then Mahomes hit Byron Pringle for the touchdown. With 1:55 remaining in the half, the Chiefs were only up by 7, but an avalanche of red fury was heading towards the visitor’s bench at Arrowhead. A Steelers three-and-out to give the ball back to the Chiefs with :51 seconds left in the half. Mahomes ledthe offense down the field, and on 3rd and 20, targeted Travis Kelce for a touchdown to make the score 21-7 at halftime.
The Chiefs received the football to start the second half, and the rout was in full force. Even an eligible offensive tackle, Nick Allegretti, caught a pass for a touchdownand a score of 28-7 with 10:13 remaining in the third quarter. Pittsburgh’s next drive lasted just one play when a swing pass to Najee Harris was fumbled away and two plays later, Mahomes hit Hill for a touchdown for a 35-7 advantage with 9:14 ito go in the third quarter. Roethlisberger wasn’t going to go away easy though, employing the likes of Chase Claypool, Pat Freiermuth, JuJu Smith-Schuster and James Washington, it was DJ18 who got the first offensive points for the black and gold making the score 35-14 with 4:10 left in the third quarter.
Not to be outdone, the Chiefs put together yet another genius and clock-draining drive. At the end of the third quarter, it was Travis Kelce taking a direct snap and throwing a touchdown pass to Byron Pringle. After the extra point, it was 42-14 in the early minutes of the final 15.
With the game essentially out of reach, the Steelers were able to move the ball on the Chiefs defense with every series from that point forward being four-down situations. A 15-yard pass to James Washington completed the scoring at 42-21 with 7:36 left in regulation. Their were more last gasp attempts by Big Ben, but it was all over but the retiring until the clock drained. The loss was not unexpected, but Steeler Nation watched their team exit the field for a second-straight postseason with plenty of question marks and the stark and depressing reality that the man that helped deliver two Super Bowl Titles and a whole lot of glorious memories, was now sauntering off into the sunset.