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The BTSC Delorean: Looking back at the complete catalog of Steelers Divisional Games, 80s and 90s edition

BTSC takes a look back at every Steelers Divisional Playoff Game played in the 1980’s and 1990s.

Pittsburgh Steelers v Denver Broncos Photo by George Gojkovich/Getty Images

The Pittsburgh Steelers have only played 59 Postseason Games in in their history, and they all elicit memories in Steelers fans both good and bad. In those contests, the Steelers have played 26 divisional contest and are 16-10 in those games and six of those wins led to a Super Bowl victories. BTSC takes a look back at the entire catalog of Steelers Divisional Games in Part 1 of a three-part series. In the 1947 game, the Steelers weren’t ready for the postseason and fell 21-0. It took them 25 years to actually be ready. When they finally were, it was magic as the Steelers went an incredible 6-2 in the decade in the divisional round.

Here’s a brief tale of the tape of the 1980s Steelers in AFC Divisional Playoff Games:

Points: Steelers 57, Opponents 85

Home Points: None

Away Points: Steelers 57, Opponents 85

Wins: Steelers 1, Opponents 3

Home Record: None

Road Record: Steelers 1, Opponents 2

Shutouts: 0

Biggest Win Margin: 7 - Steelers 24, Colts 17 (December 30, 1984)

Biggest Loss Margin: 28 - Raiders 38, Steelers 10 (January 1, 1984)

Closest Game: 1 - Broncos 24, Steelers 23 (January 6, 1990)

Overtime Games: None

Here’s a brief tale of the tape of the 1990s Steelers in AFC Divisional Playoff Games:

Points: Steelers 82, Opponents 78

Home Points: Steelers 79, Opponents 60

Away Points: Steelers 3, Opponents 28

Wins: Steelers 3, Opponents 2

Home Record: Steelers 3, Opponents 1

Road Record: Steelers 0, Opponents 1

Shutouts: 0

Biggest Win Margin: 20 - Steelers 29, Browns 9 (January 7, 1995)

Biggest Loss Margin: 25 - Patriots 28, Steelers 3 (January 5, 1997)

Closest Game: 1 - Steelers 7, Patriots 6 (January 6, 1998)

Overtime Games: None

January 1, 1984 - Los Angeles Raiders 38, Pittsburgh Steelers 10 (1983 AFC Divisional Playoff Game)

1983 was a year that started out so promising for the Steelers at 9-2, but the team was shot out of the out of the sky by the Vikings the week before the Thanksgiving holiday and devoured by the Detroit Lions on Turkey Day in the Silverdome and the leftovers were disposed of by the time New Year’s Day 1984 rolled around. With Terry Bradshaw’s elbow reinjured, the Steelers rolled out Cliff Stoudt to take on the Raiders in the historic L.A. Coliseum.

The Steelers actually scored first after a Wayne Capers reception of 44 yards and the running game consisting of Frank Pollard, Franco Harris, and Stoudt got them down to the one. Chuck Noll settled for the Gary Anderson field goal and the 3-0 lead. But after the defense forced another Ray Guy punt, disaster struck when Lester Hays took a Cliff Stoudt pass to the house and opened up the silver-and-black floodgates. Chris Bahr hit two field goals, Lyle Alzado beat Tunch Ilkin three times for sacks of Stoudt and the Raider rushing attack shredded the No. 3 defense from Steel City as Marcus Allen (twice), Kenny King, and Frank Hawkins all took Jim Plunkett handoffs for touchdowns. John Stallworth did haul-in a 58-yard reception from Stoudt for a score late in the third, but it was way too late as Tom Flores’ team were the kryptonite to the Men of Steel on their way to a Super Bowl championship. The Steelers would return to Los Angeles later in ‘84, on their way to a berth in the AFC Championship season.

1983 AFC Divisional Playoffs: Pittsburgh Steelers v Los Angeles Raiders Photo by George Rose/Getty Images

To watch the full game, click HERE

December 30, 1984 - Pittsburgh Steelers 24, Denver Broncos 17 (1984 AFC Divisional Playoff Game)

In 1984, the Steelers were the youngest team in the NFL and, despite a couple of holdovers, were light years away from the Super Steelers of the 70s. The 9-7 Steelers, fresh off of an improbable victory in Los Angeles over the Raiders, won the AFC Central and headed to Denver to face John Elway and the 13-3 Broncos. Those Broncos felt disrespected for only having one player (RB Sammy Winder) selected to the Pro Bowl. They even sported t-shirts before the game that read “Rodney’s Rejects” referring to Rodney Dangerfield’s “No Respect” schtick. The Steelers really didn’t belong in that game, as the football world readied themselves for Marino vs. Elway in the AFC Championship Game, but nobody ever told Chuck Noll’s team before they boarded the plane for Colorado.

The Steelers faltered early as Mark Malone turned the ball over twice on the team’s first two possessions, but the defense played Denver tough as Rick Karliss missed a field goal. That second fumble though, which Tom Jackson recovered, allowed John Elway to find TE Jim Wright for a nine-yard score. It was 7-0 in favor of Denver after one. The Steelers put together a decent drive which got them down to the 11 behind Malone’s passing and the feet of Frank Pollard and Walter Abercrombie. Disaster almost struck when Louis Wright dropped an sure interception from the slinging arm of Mark Malone. The Steelers got 3 points on a Gary Anderson field goal and were back in the game, but Steeler dreams almost died when Craig Colquitt had suffered a punt block for the first time in his career. Denver was four yards away from pay dirt and a big lead when Gary Dunn snagged an Elway lob on third down at the Steeler four. The Steelers put together another nice drive and when Frank Pollard scored on a one-yard plunge, the visitors found themselves up 10-7 at the half.

In the third, Karlis deadlocked the score at 10-10 with a 21-yard kick. Denver regained the lead later that quarter when Steve Watson scored from 20 out on a pass from Elway. Watson was Denver’s great weapon that day as he caught 11 balls for 177 yards. But the Steelers fought back as rookie sensation Louis Lipps reached the end zone on a 10-yard pass from Malone. It was 17-17 with a quarter to go. In the fourth, the Steeler defense remained stout and shut down Denver. But Pro Bowl kicker Gary Anderson, who uncharacteristically already missed two attempts, missed once again. It seemed like the Steelers couldn’t get the big break. With less than three minutes left, it looked like Elway would rally his team to victory, but he absorbed a monstrous hit by Keith Willis and was off kilter from there. It was never more evident when he launched a pass that Eric Williams intercepted and returned to the 2. Frank Pollard, who finished with 99 yards, ran it in from there. The Steelers were up 24-17 with 1:59 left. Elway still had time left, but he was too battered to lead his team back. Four straight incompletions and the Steelers found themselves rejoicing as the clock ran out. Pollard and Abercrombie (75 yards) controlled the run game, while Malone went 17 for 28 and had 224 yards passing, including 86 to Louis Lipps.

The Steelers would be outmatched the following week as they valiantly fell to Miami to miss out on the Super Bowl. But it was a game where the Steelers pulled off their greatest playoff upset until the 2005 season and a game which made Steeler Nation feel like the glory days weren’t completely in the rear-view mirror.

To watch the full game, click HERE

January 7, 1990 - Denver Broncos 24, Pittsburgh Steelers 23 (1989 AFC Divisional Playoff Game)

You know the story of how as the 1980s came to a close, the Steelers had started off the season losing their first two games by a combined score of 92-10 and had to win in Tampa Bay and realize improbable losses by the Los Angeles Raiders, Indianapolis Colts and Cincinnati Bengals on Christmas Eve and Day to get into the postseason. After that Christmas Football Miracle, the young Steelers needed to beat their recent oppressor, the Houston Oilers, in a building known as the House of Pain. With Merril Hoge’s 125 yards of total offense aiding a 16-13 OT victory, Chuck Noll’s Steelers packed for a trip to the Rockies and a Mile High meeting with the top-seeded Denver Broncos.

Believe it or not, the Steelers jumped to an early 3–0 lead with a 32-yard field goal by the incomparable Gary Anderson. As the Steelers defense held John Elway and company, Hoge continued where he left off (120 yards rushing and 8 receptions for 60 yards) and battered off a 45-yard run and 60 yards on this particular drive that ended with No. 33 bursting through on a 7-yard touchdown carry to increase the Steelers lead to 10–0. Denver responded with a sustained drive that culminated in Melvin Bratton emerging on the other side of the goal line with a 1-yard touchdown run, cutting the lead to 10–7. But the Steelers were motivated to prove themselves. Bubby Brister (19/29 for 224 yards and TD), employing the talents of Mike Mularkey and Tim Worley, led the visiting underdogs back to the end by throwing a 9-yard scoring pass to veteran Louis Lipps. However, Dan Reeves’ team was able to manage the clock well and David Treadwell converted a 43-yard field goal right before intermission to make the score 17-10.

In the third quarter, the Broncos defense rose up as Karl Mecklenburg and Greg Kragen exploited the shaky ball-protection of Worley to force a fumble that Tyrone Braxton recovered on the Steelers 37. Elway took advantage immediately with a 37-yard touchdown strike to Vance Johnson to knot the game up at 17 a piece. Brister was able to retaliate though, completing passes of 19 to Hoge and a 30-yard pass to rookie Mark Stock. The drive was complete when a 35-yard Anderson field goal sailed through the uprights. In the fourth, the young Steelers defense continued their harassment of Elway when Thomas Everett intercepted the All-Pro QB and returned it 26 yards to midfield, setting up Anderson’s 32-yard field goal to make the score 23–17. The Steelers appeared to have a big chance to put the game away following a Denver punt. but the drive was halted when Tyrone Braxton tackled Hoge a yard short of a first down at the Denver 41 to bring up fourth down and force a punt. With seven minutes left in the game, Elway got to business with a 36-yard completion to Mark Jackson and a 15-yarder to Ricky Nattiel. Bratton crossed the goal line with his second 1-yard touchdown of the game, this one with 2:27 left. The Steelers couldn’t counter this time. A big dagger occurred when Brister fired to a wide-open Mark Stock, but the rookie mishandled the pass and it fell incomplete when he attempted to run before securing the catch and it fell to the ground incomplete. Then experience killed the underdogs again when Brister couldn’t get a good grip on a low snap from backup center Chuck Lanza (filling in for injured All-Pro Dermontti Dawson) in shotgun formation recovered by Randy Robbins to wrap things up for the favorite Broncos.

In a run that might quite possibly be Chuck Noll’s greatest coaching performance, the young Steelers played admirably on both sides of the ball, especially on defense by limiting Elway to 239 yards with a touchdown and an interception. In the end, the Steelers ended the 1980s with an amazing experience that would pay dividends later on in the 90s.

To watch the full game, click HERE

January 9, 1993 - Buffalo Bills 24, Pittsburgh Steelers 3 (1992 AFC Divisional Playoff Game)

The Steelers return to the postseason for the first time since 1989 was a pleasant surprise due to the belief that Bill Cowher’s first NFL season was going to be a rebuild and not a division championship. But the game was marred by Bill Cowher’s decision not to go with the hot hand, Bubby Brister, instead to start a possibly rusty Neil O’Donnell who was out a month with a broken fibula. The Steelers stopped the Bills on 4th and 1 on their opening drive and were on the prowl at the 12, but Darryl Talley sacked O’Donnell for a big loss and had to settle for an Anderson field goal and a 3-0 lead. Disaster struck with the Steelers driving again only for No. 14 to be picked off by Nate Odomes, Then Buffalo finally got on the board after another O’Donnell gaffe, this time the QB was strip-sacked by Bruce Smith setting up Frank Reich’s one-yard pass to Mitch Frerotte with 1:56 to go in the half. The Steelers were driving deep in the two-minute drill, but O’Donnell is intercepted again at the Buffalo 18. The halftime score read 7-3, but fans were getting uneasy with opportunities left unrealized. The hopes for advancement got even bleaker when Rod Woodson left the game due to a head injury. Without the All-Pro corner, Reich victimized Sammy Walker again and again. The Steelers chances completely vanished when Richard Shelton, in for Walker, made a break on a Reich pass to James Lofton and dropped a sure pick-six. With a do-over, the Bills quarterback went back to Lofton for a 17-yard score.

Trailing 14-3, the Steelers have a chance to get back in the ball game, but the holder, Mark Royals, has trouble fielding the snap and can’t get it down for Gary Anderson to get an attempt at a kick. The Bills add a Steve Christie field goal and a Carwell Gardner touchdown run from the one to complete the rout. Despite a good game from Barry Foster (104 yards rushing) and Ernie Mills (8 catches for 93 yards), the Steelers couldn’t protect O’Donnell from the Bills or himself as the Steelers QB was sacked seven times and was responsible for two interceptions and two lost fumbles. The Steelers would go on to be one of the best AFC teams of the 90’s, but the missed opportunities in this game proved that the black and gold weren’t yet ready for prime time.

To watch the full game, click HERE

January 7, 1995 - Steelers 29, Browns 9 (1994 AFC Divisional Playoff Game)

What if I told you that there was a time when the Steelers defeated a Bill Belichick-led team in a playoff game? It actually occurred when two long-time rivals would gather to move forward to the AFC Championship Game. Both teams were there because of their ferocious defenses with the Steelers ranked No. 1 in the league and the Browns who allowed the least points in the NFL and featured former Super Bowl Champion standouts in Pepper Johnson and Carl Banks. Cleveland was 0-2 against Pittsburgh in 1994 but were hot coming in o the Steel City.

The Browns took the opening kick and looked to be driving into Steelers territory, bur Derrick Alexander dropped two first down passes from Vinny Testeverde on the drive. Following that, Neil O’Donnell leaned on the legs of Barry Foster and spread the ball around to get the Steelers into Gary Anderson’s range for a 3-0 lead after draining 7 minutes and 20 seconds off of the clock. The Steelers would get the ball back after a three-and-out and a shank by Browns punter Tom Tupa. With another sustained drive, Bill Cowher’s team drove down to the 2 where Eric Green hauled-in a pass for the touchdown and a 10-0 lead. Then after another short Tupa punt, the Steelers drove down the field again for a John L. Williams burst of 26 yards and a 17-0 advantage with 9:03 left in the half. Matt Stover finally got the Browns on the board with a 22-yard field goal after the Steelers defense halted a Browns drive that got all the way down to the Steelers 5. From there, defenses stiffened, and the turnovers began with Testeverde getting intercepted by Darren Perry and an Ernie Mills fumble recovered by the Browns Eric Turner. When Tim McKyer thieved Vinny and took the ball deep into enemy territory with 36 seconds left on the clock, O’Donnell threw a 9-yard touchdown pass to Yancey Thigpen for what looked to be an insurmountable 24-3 lead going into the locker room.

Just like the initial half, the Steelers scored first in the second half of play courtesy of a Gary Andersons field goal that traveled 40 yards through the uprights. Then it was a story of staunch defense and a whole bunch of punts. In the fourth, Testeverde went deep to Mark Carrier, who drew the pass interference penalty on Deon Figures. That call set up a 20-yard pass play from the Browns veteran QB to Keenan McCardell for the six. When the two-point conversion failed, the Browns tried an onside kick that didn’t work either. At 27-9, the Steelers were in control with 5:53 and we’re content staying on the ground to play the clock game. Cleveland would get the ball back one more time, but the unraveling of the Browns had already commenced. McCardell left his feet to level Chad Brown on a Testeverde completion to Michael Jackson. The unnecessary roughness play set the Brownies back to the own 13. The Steelers had no sacks on the day to that point, but then unloaded when Brentson Buckner and Kevin Greene combined on a takedown, and then Carnell finished off Vinny for a safety and a 29-9 lead to essentially end it for Pittsburgh’s third win over Cleveland of the 1994 season.

The Steelers controlled this game from the get-go, dominating their division rivals with a punishing run game featuring Barry Foster with 133 yards, Bam Morris getting 60 and John L.’s 43. Ron Ehrhardt’s offense piled up 424 yards and controlled the ball for 42:37, while the Blitzburgh Defense allowed a mere 186 total yards, and harassed Testaverde (13 of 31, 144 yds, 1 TD, 2 INT) all day. The Steelers would go on to host San Diego in the AFC Championship, but we don’t need to address that now. For on this day, the Steeler Nation area code may have been primarily 412, but it felt more like Cloud 9.

Cleveland Browns v Pittsburgh Steelers Photo by George Gojkovich/Getty Images

To watch highlights, click HERE

To watch the full game, click HERE

January 6, 1996 - Pittsburgh Steelers 40, Buffalo Bills 21 (1995 AFC Divisional Playoff Game)

In the playoffs and looking to get the three-more yards that they couldn’t in the AFC Championship the year before, The Bills, after beating Miami in the Wildcard Game, marched into Three Rivers Stadium leading the league in sacks and the armed with the potent K-Gun Offense. The Steelers opened up the scoring right away with a John L. Williams one-yard run and then backed the driving Bills enough for a Steve Christie miss from 52 yards. In the second quarter, the Steelers received a gift from the officials when Ernie Mills, despite not getting both feet down in the back of the end zone, was awarded a touchdown for the 14-0 lead and from Thomas Moore’s drop of a sure pick of Neil O’Donnell. Three Norm Johnson field goals and a one-yard Thurman Thomas score had the Steelers leading the Bills 23-7 at the half.

In the third, things didn’t get better for Buffalo as Bill Johnson and Greg Lloyd bruised Jim Kelly’s sternum on a sandwich hit, forcing No. 12 to exit the game. A couple of second-half interceptions thrown by O’Donnell gave Buffalo hope as Alex Van Pelt and a returning Kelly threw touchdown passes to get the score close at 26-21, but two sacks by Kevin Greene, Greg Lloyd and Chad Brown combined with Levon Kirkland, Carnell Lake and Jerry Olsavsky interceptions of Kelly and a pair of Bam Morris touchdown runs iced the contest and earned the Steelers a trip back to the AFC Title Game.

To watch the full game, click HERE

January 5, 1997 - New England Patriots 28, Pittsburgh Steelers 3 (1996 AFC Divisional Playoff Game)

The very first playoff game between Pittsburgh and New England featured two teams heading in different directions with the Steelers winning only three of their previous seven and the Pats victorious in eight of ten. Doomed were Bill Cowher’s visitors as playing in a driving fog flummoxed them from the very start. A Steelers’ three-and-out gave Drew Bledsoe a chance to complete a 53-yard pass to Terry Glenn over Rod Woodson on the home team’s very first series. To follow, Curtis Martin crossed the goalline with a 2-yard touchdown run. Another Steelers’ punt followed, and so did another touchdown on a 34-yard screen pass from Bledsoe to Keith Byars, giving the Foxboro faithful a 14–0 lead to celebrate just 7:05 into the first quarter. The Patriots continued rolling as the first quarter bled into the second, but the Steelers found a moment of hopefullness when Fred McAfee took a direct snap on a punt attempt and ran 8-yards for a first down. However, the Patriots brought the heat with back-to-back sacks of Mike Tomczak by the combo of Mike Jones and Chad Eaton and then Chris Slade got the second. When Martin burst through a hole after a Pittsburgh punt, dodged an oncoming Carnell Lake, and raced 78 yards to glory, it was your basic rout in a whiteout with 9:55 to go before intermission. With a tad over a minute left before halftime, Willie Williams picked off a pass from Bledsoe at the Patriot 48 to give the Steelers a chance to get on the board. However, McAfee lost 2 yards on a 4th and 4 at the Pats’ 24 and the score remained 21–0 with both teams heading to the locker room.

Scoring stalled a bit in the second half, as both punters, Tom Tupa and Josh Miller, got a workout. The Steelers finally got to convert their zero on the scoreboard to points after a Chad Brown interception of Bledsoe led to a 29-yarder by Norm Johnson with 3:50 to go in the third, but comeback hopes were dashed when Lawyer Milloy intercepted a pass from Tomczak on the New England 39- Six plays later, Martin’s 23-yard touchdown run put the game essentially out of reach to further New England’s lead to 28–3. In the fourth quarter, an interception by Willie Clay thwarted another unsuccessful trip inside the red zone.

It was a bad day all around for the Steelers, as the defense surrendered 166 rushing yards and three trips to the end zone by the Burgh’s own, Curtis Martin. The offensive unit was truly offensive though, as Tomczak was held to 110 passing yards and intercepted twice, Kordell was 0/10 passing and the Bus, limited by groin and ankle injuries, couldn’t clear much room in the fog, only traveling 43 yards on the ground. Bill Parcells’ Patriots went on to reach the Super Bowl in a losing effort, as the Steelers had to travel back home with their heads hung low. Luckily, they were much more successful in 1997, as they found a way to maneuver their heads out of the fog to beat the Patriots twice that next season.

To watch the full game, click HERE

January 6, 1998 - Pittsburgh Steelers 7, England Patriots 6 (1997 AFC Divisional Playoff Game)

A year and a day after embarrassing the Steelers in the AFC Divisional Game, the defending conference champions came in looking to avenge a last-minute loss in the snow to the visiting Steelers in the December snow just a mere 21 days earlier. The Patriots were severely decimated by injuries, playing without superstar runner Curtis Martin. Bill Cowher’s black and gold, in turn, were looking to return the AFC Championship Game to Three Rivers for the third time in four seasons.

On the third play of the game, first-round rookie cornerback Chad Scott intercepted a bomb from Drew Bledsoe at his 8 and returned it 27 yards to the 38. Kordell Stewart then got the team into enemy territory by converting two third downs with 10-yard completions, both to Charles Johnson. At the Patriots 40, Kordell rolled out to pass, pulled his arm down and called his own number. The result was a 40-yard tightrope down the left sideline, aided by a Mark Bruener clear-out block, for the longest touchdown run in Steelers postseason history at that particular juncture with only 5:11 gone in the game.

Now for a quick synopsis of the next eight possessions. Tom Tupa punt. Josh Miller punt. Tom Tupa punt. Josh Miller punt. Tom Tupa punt. Josh Miller punt. Tom Tupa punt. Josh Miller punt. A Jason Gildon recovery of a Bledsoe fumble forced by a Nolan Harrison sack briefly halted punt-a-palooza, but the Steelers didn’t get the memo and resumed the phenomenon with a 13-yard kick from the Patriot 35 that Pete Carroll’s team converted into New England’s first points. Bledsoe employed Shawn Jefferson for 29 yards and Terry Glenn for 36 on a 65-yard drive that culminated in an Adam Vinatieri 31-yard field goal to make the score 7-3. With 1:39 remaining before intermission, Pittsburgh drove to the New England 33, but cornerback Steve Israel intercepted a pass from Stewart and the home team led 7-3 at intermission.

Defense continued to rule the day in the third, but on the last play of the quarter, Bledsoe hooked up with Glenn for a 39-yard play that set up an eventual 46-yard field goal from Vinatieri, cutting Pittsburgh’s lead to 7-6. After a punt from each team, the Steelers had a chance to put the game away with 3:24 remaining in the contest and the drive commencing at the enemy 44. Kordell passed on the initial play and a pass interference call on Ted Johnson gave Slash a first down on the New England 29. From there it was only Stewart and Jerome Bettis and they were keeping the ball on the ground, but they weren’t trying to drain clock. Using their remaining two timeouts, the black and gold found themselves on the Patriots 1-yard line with a 4th and goal to go. With a field goal leaving the Steelers susceptible to losing on a late touchdown with no recourse possible, Cowher tried to ice the game with a score. That decision caused nerves to be rattled though as Kordell was stuffed for no gain with 1:44 left in regulation. New England had new life and a chance to drive for a winning field goal. Finding themselves losing grip and their backs against the wall, rookie linebacker and future Patriots hero Mike Vrabel stripped the ball from Bledsoe, allowing Gildon to recover it for his second of the afternoon. The Patriots did get possession back with a mere :34 seconds left, but Levon Kirkland intercepted Bledsoe’s Hail Mary on the last play.

The Steelers went on to host the AFC Title Game for the third time in four seasons the following week at Three Rivers Stadium, but fell short of the Super Bowl. But this game was a testament to the defensive intensity and fortitude that takes over when the offense struggles.

To watch the full game, click HERE