Patriots-Steelers Rivalry: A History

The New England Patriots and Pittsburgh Steelers have met 29 times, with the Steelers having a 15-14 advantage.  They will meet for the 30th time on Sunday for the AFC Championship at Gillette Stadium in Foxborough.

The Patriots have a 4-1 advantage at Gillette Stadium and 3-1 advantage in the playoffs.

Early Days (1966-1975)

In the Super Bowl era, the New England Patriots have had three distinct epochs.  The first was the initial decade in the NFL (1966-1975), when the team struggled to a 45-92-3 record while amassing young talent including  Jim Plunkett,  John Hannah, Sam Cunningham, Darryl Stingley and Russ Francis.

During this period, the Patriots were 0-2 against the Pittsburgh Steelers.

Fairbanks to Carroll (1976-1999)

This all changed in 1976 when Sports Illustrated declared “These Pats are Patsies No More“.   Under Coach Chuck Fairbanks and led by second-year quarterback Steve Grogan, the team opened the season 3-1 with wins at home against the Miami Dolphins (30-14) and Oakland Raiders (48-17) (their only loss of the season) and a 30-27 come from behind win on the road over the defending champion Steelers.  I remember the game well, as Grogan led the team from a 20-9 third quarter deficit.  It signaled that the Patriots had arrived.

The Patriots finished 11-3 and would go on to lose to the Oakland Raiders (the eventual Super Bowl champions) 24-21 in the Divisional Playoffs over a questionable penalty call in the final minutes.

From 1976-1999, the Patriots fluctuated between contenders and pretenders, going  186-186 but reaching the Super Bowl twice – losing to the Chicago Bears 46-10 in Super Bowl XX and the Green Bay Packers 35-21 in Super Bowl XXXI.

During this period, the Patriots were 5-10 against the Steelers.  This included their first playoff match ups.

1997 Division Playoffs

Patriots 28, Steelers 3

The Patriots started the season 3-3, but finished 8-2 to win the AFC East. In contrast, the Steelers started 7-2 but finished 10-6.  In their playoff battle, led by QB Drew Bledsoe and RB Curtis Martin, the Patriots opened a 14-0 first quarter lead  and never looked back.  The Steelers benched QB Mike Tomczak in the fourth quarter, in favor of Cordell Stewart who missed all ten of his passes on a foggy day.

The Patriots would go on to crush Jacksonville 20-6 in the AFC Championship before losing to the Green Bay Packers 35-21 in Super Bowl XXXI.

1998 Division Playoffs

Steelers 7, Patriots 6

The defending AFC Champs started 4-0 and then slumped to 6-5 under new coach Pete Carroll.  They went 5-1 the rest of the way to win the AFC East with their only loss coming in overtime in Week 15 to the Steelers 24-21.

The win gave the Steelers (11-5) the home field advantage when they met three weeks later, with the Steelers winning a 7-6 defensive battle.   It was the Steelers’ last playoff win at Three Rivers Stadium.

Belichick – Brady (2000-Present)

In 2000, the Patriots hired Bill Belichick as their new coach and drafted Tom Brady in the 6th round.  Since 2000, the Patriots have been a dominant 201-71 and have

  • made the playoffs 15 times;
  • won the AFC East 14 times;
  • been to the AFC Championship 11 times (winning 6 times);  and
  • have won 4 Super Bowls.

During this period, the Steelers have:

  • made the playoffs 11 times;
  • won the AFC Central 8 times;
  • been to the AFC Championship 5 times (winning 3 times); and
  • have won 2 Super Bowls.

The Patriots’ record against the Steelers during this period is 9-3, including two victories in their only playoff matchups in the AFC Championship.

2002 AFC Championship

Patriots 24, Steelers 17

The Patriots season started disastrously with an 0-2 record and an injury to QB Drew Bledsoe.  They were 5-5 after a 17-24 loss at home to the St. Louis Rams.  They never lost again that season.

After beating the Oakland Raiders 16-13 in overtime in the famous Snow Bowl, the Patriots traveled to Heinz Field to face the 13-3 Steelers.  Drew Bledsoe took over for an injured Tom Brady to put the Patriots up 14-3 at the half.  A blocked field goal return gave the Patriots a 21-3 lead and the Patriots held on to win 24-17.


2005 AFC Championship

Patriots 41, Steelers 27

In the 2004 season, the Steelers (15-1) and the defending champion Patriots (14-2) were the two best teams in the NFL.  The Steelers won a mid-season matchup at home 34-20.

In their only playoff matchup to-date, Tom Brady was 14 of 21 for 207 yards with two touchdown passes, while Ben Roethlisberger was 14 of 24 for 226 yards with two touchdowns but three interceptions.  Once again the Patriots jumped out to an early 24-3 lead and coasted a 41-27 win.

They would go on to beat the Philadelphia Eagles in Super Bowl XXXIX 24-21.

Since then, the Patriots have won 6 of the last 8 contests against the Steelers including the last 3.  The two met midseason with the Patriots winning 27-16 (although the Steelers were led by backup QB Landry Jones).


While most of the attention will be on the two quarterbacks, the real story to this game could be the defense.  The Patriots defense gave up the fewest points in the league and the Steelers struggled against the Kansas City defense.

Record 14-2 11-5
Divisional Standings 1st 1st
Total Yards Gained 6,180 5,962
Total Offense (Rank) 386.3 (4) 372.6 (7)
Rush Offense 117.0 (7) 110.0 (14)
Pass Offense 269.3 (4) 262.6 (5t)
Points Per Game 27.6 (3) 25.0 (9)
Total Yards Allowed 5,223 5,482
Total Defense (Rank) 326.4 (8) 342.6 (12)
Rush Defense 88.6 (3t) 100.0(13)
Pass Defense 237.9 (12) 242.6 (16)
Points Allowed/Game 15.6 (1) 20.4 (10)
Possession Avg. 31:13 30:22
Sacks Allowed/Yards Lost 24/148 21/175
Sacks Made/Yards 34/227 38/59
Total Touchdowns Scored 51 47
Penalties Against/Yards 93/819 113/1068
Punts/Avg. 72/44.7 69/44.9
Turnover Differential +12 (3) +5 (9t)


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