On visiting Broncos, Steelers will look to avoid first 0-3 home start since 1986
Thirty-five years ago this month, the Pirates completed their first season under the direction of fiery manager Jim Leyland. For the Penguins, it was the start of Bob Berry’s third and final year behind the bench, and Mario Lemieux began his quest for his first career 50-goal season.
Pitt’s football team was in transition under first-year coach Mike Gottfried, and hours away in Happy Valley, Joe Paterno fielded Penn State’s second national championship team.
In the midst of this sporting landscape, the Steelers have taken a dubious step forward, accomplishing a feat they haven’t matched since but will put into play on Sunday.
On October 19, 1986, the Steelers were shutout 34-0 by the New England Patriots at Three Rivers Stadium, dropping their record to 1-6 but also giving them a 0-3 record at home.
It was the first time since 1968, a year before Chuck Noll arrived, that the Steelers had started 0-3 at home. In fact, they had started 0-2 at home only once before under Noll, in 1983. And in the 34 football seasons that followed, thanks to Noll, Bill Cowher and Mike Tomlin, the Steelers never lost. more than two home games to start. a season.
That streak could end on Sunday when the Denver Broncos, armed with a 3-1 record, travel to Heinz Field to face the Steelers 1-3, losing three in a row, regardless of venue.
“We just have to find a way to have a ‘W’ on the board at the end of the game,” said quarterback Ben Roethlisberger. “You can play well and all of those things and improve, but at the end of the day you want to win the football game. That’s what we have to do.
It’s a goal that seemed achievable after the Steelers opened the season with a 23-16 win at Buffalo. Then there were losses over consecutive weeks at Heinz Field in Las Vegas and, more surprisingly, in Cincinnati. After a loss at Green Bay, the Steelers have another chance to correct their home shortcomings against the Broncos on Sunday and the Seattle Seahawks next weekend.
The challenge that awaits Tomlin’s side is the one he faced in 2013 when the Steelers suffered two home losses amid a 0-4 start. The Steelers won their third home game, 19-16, against Baltimore and finished the season 8-8, including a 5-3 record at Heinz Field.
It was much the same in 2018 when the Steelers lost home games to Kansas City and Baltimore and were 1-2-1 going into a game at Heinz Field against Atlanta. The Steelers got back on track with a 41-17 win that sparked a six-game winning streak. While the Steelers didn’t make the playoffs that year with a 9-6-1 record, they also finished 5-3 at home.
Given this story, don’t expect Tomlin to deliver fiery speeches about the importance of this Broncos game.
“It’s less about what we say,” Tomlin said. “It’s more about what we do and how we approach our circumstances, especially when you’re dealing with young guys, and we have young guys. Forget what comes out of my mouth. They study how I move, they study the spirit in which I move, the attitude and the energy that I bring to the opportunity.
“The positive approach is extremely helpful when you are dealing with the adversity of this game.”
Defensive captain Cameron Heyward and Roethlisberger are the only leftovers from those 2013 and 2018 squads who started at home 0-3.
“Let’s just get a win,” Heyward said. “I will never try to compare a previous season to another season. Every season has its pitfalls and its ups. It’s about fighting through adversity and coming out on the other side of it.
Since free agency began in 1993, the Steelers’ 160 home wins rank third, behind Green Bay (171) and New England (169). The Steelers have the most home wins of any team (285) since the 1970 merger.
The record books will show that this is the seventh time since Noll arrived in 1969 that the Steelers have lost their first two home games. Two were under his watch (1983, 1986) and the next two took place in 1999 and 2000 under the direction of coach Bill Cowher.
In 1999, the Steelers were 6-10 and were 2-6 at Three Rivers Stadium, which was the site’s worst season. Even when the Steelers started 0-3 at home in 1986, they won four of their last five games at Three Rivers.
Season 99 led to the sacking of Tom Donahoe as general manager and ushered in the Kevin Colbert era. Since Colbert’s arrival, the Steelers have never finished with a home loss record, the closest being to 2003 when they were 4-4 at Heinz Field in a 6-10.
This is, of course, the last time the Steelers finished a season with more losses than wins, a streak they would like to extend until 2022. A win over Denver would be a step in the right direction.
“Regardless of our current state, this time of year is less about the people we play with,” Tomlin said. “It’s more about the continuing trajectory of our group, allowing us to better understand who we are, who we have at our disposal. How to accentuate their positive traits? How do we work to minimize their negative traits? How to put them in place schematically and put them in the right position to succeed? How do we prepare them? How do they make games that put us in the winning circle.
“This is our challenge and our goal for the week. ”