“Professional respect. Competitive animosity. They haven’t had to go through us either since I’ve been here. So stay tuned”.
That is how Pittsburgh Steelers Head Coach Mike Tomlin responded to a question about how he felt about the New England Patriots organization and the fact that they have had the Steelers’ number over the course of the two teams’ postseason history.
The Steelers and Patriots have met up in the postseason four teams previous to Sunday’s game in the AFC Championship. The Patriots have emerged victorious in three of those games. their 3-1 record against Pittsburgh in the postseason is the best record that any team has against the Steelers that they have faced more than once.
The last time that the Steelers and Patriots have met up in the postseason was in this game 13 years ago, during quarterback Ben Roethlisberger’s rookie season. And for the most part, it really hasn’t been close. New England dominated the Steelers in their first postseason meeting during the 1996 season, 28-3.
Pittsburgh did strike back a year later, just narrowly defeating the Patriots by a score of 7-6. That, to date, has been their only victory—a one-point affair in which they scored seven points. In 2001, they were eliminated from the AFC Championship Game by a score of 24-17. Roethlisberger’s Steelers went down 41-27 three years later.
Overall, the Steelers have lost their past three games against the Patriots, including a loss in each of the past two seasons, and four of their last five. They are 3-7 since Roethlisberger has been drafted, though a couple of those losses have come without him…and one of the wins came without Tom Brady.
But the playoffs are a different animal entirely, and, as Tomlin alluded to, the Patriots haven’t faced the Steelers at this level since Tomlin has been on watch—and, frankly, not since Roethlisberger has become a mature quarterback, either. That certainly makes a world of difference as well.
Both teams have won a couple of Super Bowls since the last time they faced each other in the playoffs, but they have managed to avoid facing each other since then, despite the fact that both have obviously seen a great deal of success—the Patriots having been to the past six AFC Championship games, and the Steelers going to their fifth with Roethlisberger.
You certainly have to appreciate the way that Tomlin handled the topic, as well as the question, which almost seemed to frame the game as an unwinnable scenario. The Steelers haven’t beaten the Patriots in the postseason in about 20 years. But the Patriots haven’t beaten the Steelers in the postseason in 12 years, either. It’s been a while. So let’s do this. Stayed tuned.