Steelers have rebounded from 0-3 starts but never made playoffs
Twice prior since the most recent turn of the century have the Pittsburgh Steelers started out 0-3. The good news: each time, the Steelers turned things around and avoided a losing record.
The bad news is that neither rally was grand enough to result in a playoff berth.
The 2019 Steelers fell to 0-3 after Sunday’s 24-20 defeat at the San Francisco 49ers. It marks the fifth time in the 51 seasons since Chuck Noll became coach that the Steelers are winless after three weeks. It’s happened just four times over the past 49 seasons (Noll’s second team – 1970 – started 0-3 and finished 5-9).
Here is a look at the three most recent times the Steelers lost each of their first three games. It’s happened once each under each of their three most recent coaches:
A 5-4 finish to the season featured four losses by a combined 19 points and five wins by a combined 87 points. They lost two overtime games in that time. None of it, though, was close to enough to overcome an awful 1-6 start that was kicked off by three losses to open the season in which the Steelers were outscored, 82-17.
An overtime win against the Houston Oilers came next, followed by a pair of field-goal defeats to the Steelers’ other division rivals, the Cleveland Browns and Cincinnati Bengals. A 34-0 loss to the New England Patriots on Oct. 19 all but ended the Steelers’ season when they dropped to 1-6, rendering moot their late-season strong play.
Otherwise known as The Kent Graham Season, the Steelers lost their first three under journeyman veteran quarterback Graham. But a return to former starter Kordell Stewart seemed to jumpstart the team – mostly and curiously, its defense. The Steelers won their next five, and over a five-game stretch that began in Week 5, they allowed a total of 21 points (4.2 per game).
The Steelers would be the final team to beat the eventual Super Bowl champion Ravens, winning in Baltimore, 9-6, in late October. The Steelers’ only loss over their final five games was to the Super Bowl’s other qualifier, the New York Giants. Overall, five of seven defeats were to playoff teams and four came by three points of fewer.
The Steelers remained alive for the postseason until the final day of their season, scoreboard-watching helplessly during a win at San Diego only to be continuously updated that the Indianapolis Colts were wrapping up the AFC’s final playoff spot with a win against Minnesota.
That ensured that Three Rivers Stadium’s final game was one that occurred during the regular season.
The lone other time Mike Tomlin as a head coach hadn’t yet gotten a win this far into a season was six years ago – and, for good measure, they were 0-4 after a humbling loss in London against the Minnesota Vikings.
Although the Steelers won the next two, things would get worse: a loss at hapless Oakland and a 24-point defeat at a familiar place (Foxborough) left the Steelers at 2-6 for the second time in an eight-year span.
But just like 2006 under Cowher, these Steelers rallied down the stretch and were in contention for a playoff berth all the way through until three hours after their regular season ended – the San Diego Chargers went to overtime of their late-afternoon finale 2013, needing a win against the Kansas City Chiefs to take the AFC’s final playoff berth. If the Chiefs would have held on to a 10-point fourth-quarter lead, the Steelers would have made the playoffs.
Then again, it could be said the Steelers came within inches of a playoff berth – in their final loss, Antonio Brown almost tiptoed down the sideline for a touchdown during the final play of regulation of a 34-28 Miami Dolphins win on Dec. 8.
Chris Adamski is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Chris by email at [email protected] or via Twitter .