Believe it or not, the 2015 season will mark the 10-year anniversary of the Steelers magical 2005 championship run that included just barely getting into the playoffs and becoming the first sixth seed to win three road games to advance to the Super Bowl.
And, Pittsburgh made even more history by becoming the first team to not only win three road games to advance to the Super Bowl (the Patriots were the first to accomplish this feat in 1985 as a fifth seed), but actually complete the journey with a 21-10 victory over the Seahawks in Super Bowl XL.
Most people look back on the '05 Steelers as an underdog team that won the title in a Rocky-like fashion. It is true that Pittsburgh did take a road through the playoffs that, up until then, had been all but impossible to navigate without veering off of a virtual cliff. However, to just look at the 2005 Pittsburgh Steelers as nothing but a Cinderella team that somehow managed to win a Lombardi trophy against all odds--the best team doesn't always win, as they say--that would be a disservice to true Cinderella stories throughout sports history.
Pittsburgh may have been 7-5 and on the outside looking in at the playoffs as late as mid-December; Pittsburgh may have had to take the road less traveled to get to the Super Bowl; Pittsburgh's performance in the Super Bowl against the Seahawks may have been a little shaky and filled with controversy (so was Seattle's fyi), but the 2005 Pittsburgh Steelers were not a fluky, Cinderella story.
People may actually forget the Steelers finished 15-1 in 2004 and advanced all the way to the AFC Championship game before falling to New England at Heinz Field. The following season, Pittsburgh started out 7-2, with the only losses coming on a last-second field goal by the Patriots in Week 3; and the infamous Tommy Maddox multiple-turnover overtime loss to the Jaguars in Week 6.
Speaking of that Maddox game, it would be one of two he would start that season. Charlie Batch would also start two games. The reason for this was a knee injury to second-year quarterback Ben Roethlisberger that required surgery. After missing that game against Jacksonville, it was decided that Roethlisberger would have the procedure a few weeks later after toughing out wins over the Bengals and Ravens. While the Steelers did manage to win back-to-back games over Green Bay and Cleveland with Batch getting the starts, there was another overtime loss (again with Maddox under center)--this time to the Ravens in Week 11. That loss started a three-game slide.
Even though Roethlisberger returned in time for the Monday night game at Indianapolis, he wasn't 100 percent. Besides, it was the Colts, a team that was undefeated at the time and a heavy favorite to go all the way, and they proceeded to pummel Pittsburgh, 26-7. Also, Roethlisberger wasn't the only key injury suffered that year, as Marvel Smith, the left tackle, also missed four games around the time Roethlisberger missed three-straight weeks. Pittsburgh lost at home to the Bengals the following week to bottom out at 7-5
I won't get into a review of the entire '05 campaign; it's just important to point out that the Steelers were a team that won 22 out of a possible 25 regular season games from Week 1 of the 2004 season to Week 10 of the 2005 season. They just fell into an unfortunate late-season funk in '05, due to some very key injuries and a rather rough part of the schedule (the Colts and Bengals won their respective divisions that year).
If you look at the Steelers statistics from 2005, they were certainly Super Bowl-caliber in most of the key areas. And even though the 2008 Steelers had an historically tough schedule, an historically dominant defense, the Harrison 100 and Big Ben to 10, in many ways the '05 squad was superior.
Thanks to some research on Profootballreference.com, you can see that Pittsburgh finished fourth in total defense, and recorded 30 takeaways and 47 sacks; the team was plus-7 in giveaways/takeaways, and the offense rushed for 2,223 yards and passed for 2,926.
The '08 Steelers defense did finish number one in yards allowed and several other categories, but the sacks (51) were similar, and the takeaways (29) were right on par with the '05 club.
As for the offense, that was vastly inferior to the '05 edition. While Roethlisberger passed for 3,301 yards in '08, he only threw 17 touchdowns to 15 interceptions (the ratio was 17 to nine in '05 in four less games), and his seven yards per pass attempt were the worst of his entire career (he finished second in the NFL at 8.9 yards per attempt in '05). Also, Roethlisberger's quarterback rating (80.1) was the second-worst of his career. This obviously had to do with an inferior offensive line that struggled all season long and contributed to Roethlisberger getting sacked 46 times. He was only sacked 23 times in '05 (although, in all fairness to the '08 line, Roethisberger attempted far fewer passes during the Super Bowl XL season).
In 2008, behind the injury-riddled Willie Parker and his capable fill-in, Mewelde Moore, the best Pittsburgh could do on the ground was 1690 yards. In 2005, with a stable of backs that included Parker, the legendary Jerome Bettis, Verron Haynes and even Duce Staley, the Steelers averaged nearly 140 yards on the ground behind an offensive line that included Alan Faneca, Jeff Hartings and the aforementioned Smith.
The Steelers offense finished 22nd in the league in total yards in '08 (15th in '05) and 20th in scoring with 21.7 points per game (in '05, the Steelers finished ninth in scoring, with 24.3 points per game). The Steelers scored 42 touchdowns in '05, compared to 35 in '08.
The Steelers average margin of victory in '05 was 15.3 points compared to 13.42 for the '08 team.
This isn't meant to chop down the 2008 Pittsburgh Steelers. They were an awesome team with a dominant defense that had to navigate through, again, an historically tough schedule. In-fact, perhaps as a testament to that tough schedule, once it started to lighten up a bit in the playoffs (that's right, the winning percentage of the Steelers three postseason opponents was .583--the worst for any Super Bowl winner), scoring picked up considerably, as the team averaged over four touchdowns a game in victories over the Chargers, Ravens and Cardinals.
What this article is meant to do is prop up the 2005 Steelers.
Look at the roster: Hines Ward, Ben Roethlisberger, Willie Parker, Jerome Bettis, Alan Faneca, Jeff Hartings, Heath Miller and Antwaan Randle El (and that's just the offense).
The defense, well, that included Joey Porter, James Farrior, a younger Casey Hampton, an in his prime Aaron Smith, and an all-world and super-natural Troy Polamalu.
While the Steelers had a tough road seven years ago (they played seven games against teams that made the playoffs), in '05, Pittsburgh didn't exactly face a schedule filled with cupcakes. The Steelers not only had to play six games against teams that made the playoffs, once they got to the postseason, they had to go through the top three seeds in the AFC and the top seeded Seahawks in the Super Bowl. Speaking of those AFC playoffs, if not for a jaw-dropping reversal of Troy Polamalu's obvious interception late in the divisional playoff victory over Indianapolis, the Steelers would have steam-rolled over all three teams en-route to Ford Field in Detroit.
Finally, while you might see the 2005 Pittsburgh Steelers included on a few lists of the weakest Super Bowl champions, fact is, that's not really the case. They finished in the top 10 in scoring. Their defense was a top-five unit and took the football away at a Super Bowl-acceptable rate (turnovers are extremely important to championship success). The offense finished in the top five in rushing and didn't give the football away at an alarming rate. And Roethlisberger's 8.9 yards per pass attempt was certainly a superior number for that category. (Historically, yards per pass attempt seems to be the offensive statistical equal to takeaways for a defense in terms of Super Bowl success.)
I'd put the Super Bowl XL Steelers up against most past champions, and I'd like their chances to come out victorious.