2004 Steelers 24 vs Raiders 21
The Steelers return to their roots -- a strong running game and high pressure defense -- to open an early 2-TD lead and then hold off the Raiders to win on Jeff Reed's 42-yard field goal with seven seconds remaining. Duce Staley gains 91-yds in his Steelers debut and Ward catches 7 passes for 99 yds. Crazy stat of the game: Jerome Bettis gains only 1 yard on 5 carries but scores 3 TDs!
2004 Steelers 13 at Ravens 30
Big Ben's first NFL action (subbing for injured Maddox). Maddox goes 4-for-13 for 67 yards before being forced out in the third quarter with an elbow injury. With the Steelers facing a 20-0 hole, in comes first-round draft pick Ben Roethlisberger, who after throwing an INT on his 2nd pass attempt, proceeds to hit 11 of his next 13 passes for 168 yds and 2 TDs... before throwing a late pick six to Chris McCallister.
2004 Steelers 13 at Dolphins 3 SNF
Conditions couldn't have been worse for rookie Ben Roethlisberger's first-ever NFL start. Played in a torrential downpour, the weather is so severe (due to the remnants of Hurricane Jeanne) that the game is pushed back to a night game. Adding to the strange nature of this contest, the Steelers were stuck in their Fort Lauderdale hotel with no power the previous night. Big Ben gets off to a shaky start when his first pass, an attempted throw-away, is intercepted. Unphased, Ben goes on to play an otherwise clean, mistake-free game in the monsoon conditions, finishing a respectable 12 of 22 for 163 yds and 1 TD, good enough to earn him the first of many "NFL Rookie of the Week" honors. Much of the first quarter is played on the muddy, slippery baseball infield, which leads to 3 turnovers and 2 penalties in the first 3 minutes of the game. Pittsburgh's defense - who forces 4 turnovers and makes a key fourth-down stop -- sets up Jeff Reed's first FG of the night after Deshea Townsend's over-the-shoulder INT at the Pittsburgh 20. On the ensuing drive, Plaxico Burress makes a remarkable 42-yd reception after he slips and falls on the infield clay but still catches Roethlisberger's bomb as he's sprawled on the ground. The Steelers make it 6-0 in the 3rd quarter after stuffing Miami on 4-and-1 near midfield, setting up a 51-yd FG by Reed. Duce Staley gains 101 yds on 22 carries in the slop, while Hines Ward hauls in 9 catches for 96 yds, including a 7-yd TD from Roethlisberger late in the 4th quarter to clinch the game.
2004 Steelers 28 vs Bengals 17
Ben Roethlisberger continues to show uncommon poise for a rookie who wasn't expected to be thrust into a starting role so early in his career, rallying the Steelers from behind to earn his first 4th quarter comeback victory. Roethlisberger finishes 17 of 25 for 174 yards, 1 TD, 0 Ints, Staley gains 123 yards on 25 carries, Bettis scores 2 TDs and Troy Polamalu seals the game with a remarkable leaping interception and scintillating 26-yd TD return of a Carson Palmer pass (breaking half a dozen tackles and bulldozing right through Palmer on his way into the end zone) with 2 minutes remaining.
2004 Steelers 34 vs Browns 23
Rookie of the year Ben Roethlisberger, becoming more comfortable and productive with each start, confuses Cleveland with his running and creativity as the Steelers win their 3rd in a row. The first classic Big Ben moment comes when Roethlisberger scrambles to his right to elude the rush and gets leveled by Orpheus Roye, but still finds Plaxico Burress deep downfield for 51 yards to the Cleveland 9. Two plays later, un-rattled by the hit, Big Ben powers up the middle for a 6-yard TD run. Ben's mobility also sets up a 37-yard bomb to Burress that makes it 24-10 midway through the 3rd quarter. Roethlisberger rolls out of the pocket, freezing the defense and allowing Burress to slip five yards behind Cleveland DB's for an unguarded touchdown. Burress makes 6 catches for 136 yards and Duce Staley compliments Roethlisberger's performance (16 of 21 for 231 yards, 1 TD pass, 1 TD run) by scoring on a 25-yard run on Pittsburgh's 3rd offensive play and gaining 117 yards on 21 carries, his 3rd consecutive 100-yard game. Meanwhile, Bettis scores his 6th TD of season.
2004 Steelers 24 at Cowboys 20
Big Ben engineers the second 4th quarter comeback victory of his young career, completing 21 of 25 passes with 2 TDs. The Cowboys lead 20-10 early in the 4th quarter, but Ben completes nine straight throws on the Steelers' last two scoring drives (11 in a row total), leading Pittsburgh to a 24-20 comeback win. But while it's the rookie who leads the way, it's a timely Dallas fumble and a short TD from a Steelers old-timer (Bettis) that provides Pittsburgh with the winning points. The Cowboys have the ball on the Steelers 47, facing third down with a 20-17 lead and under 3 minutes left. When Testaverde drops back to pass, James Farrior (who had two sacks and caused two other fumbles earlier in the game) crashes through the line to knock the ball loose yet again. Kimo von Oelhoffen scoops it up and runs to the Dallas 24 to set up Jerome Bettis' TD rumble with just 30 seconds left.
2004 Steelers 34 vs Patriots 20
According to the talking heads, this Halloween matchup was "supposed" to be the game in which young phenom Ben Roethlisberger finally gets exposed as a rookie, overwhelmed by the evil genius of New England's defensive mastermind, Bill Belichick, with his unpredictable and frightening defensive schemes. Instead, Big Ben picks apart New England's secondary (18 of 24, 196 yds, 2 TDs, 0 Int), wins NFL Rookie of the Week honors for 5th straight time and puts an end to the Patriots' record-setting winning streak. The Patriots (6-0) come into the game having won 21 straight (counting the playoffs) and a league-record 18 in a row in the regular season. But the Steelers punch the Patriots in the mouth early and often in this one. Roethlisberger throws 2 TD passes to Plaxico Burress (including a picture-perfect 47-yard bomb) and Deshea Townsend intercepts a rattled Tom Brady for a 39-yard "pick-six" during a furious 21-point Steelers first quarter. Instead of the rookie Roethlisberger being overwhelmed, it's Brady who ends up frustrated, confused and looking out his ear hole. Meanwhile, Roethlisberger runs his own winning streak to 18: his last 13 games at Miami of Ohio and his first five in the NFL. Joey Porter has a HUGE game, recording 3 sacks and forcing 2 fumbles while Duce Staley gains 125 yards on 25 carries and the Bus runs 15 times for 65 yards and a TD. All in all, a complete team effort. Unfortunately, New England is busy illegally filming/stealing Pittsburgh's defensive calls during this game a la the "Spy-gate" scandal (for which Bill Belicheat is ultimately fined $500,000 and the Patriots are fined $250,000 as well as losing their first-round draft pick in the 2008 NFL Draft). But this game shows what a fair fight between the Steelers and Patriots looks like. A truly beautiful win for the Steelers, and a Halloween Nightmare for the Patriots.
2004 Steelers 27 vs Eagles 3
The Steelers continue on their reign of terror against the NFL's elite, blowing out the previously unbeaten Eagles in remarkably easy fashion. Roethlisberger guides the Steelers to a seemingly effortless 21-0 lead, scoring on their first 3 possessions behind the hard running of Bettis, who gains 149 yards in his 55th career 100-yard game. Hines Ward scores on the first two drives, a 16-yard reverse and a 20-yard reception, then mocks Eagles receiver Terrell Owens by flapping his arms Owens-like in the end zone both times. Meanwhile, Owens finishes with a season-low 53 yards receiving. A week after outrushing New England 221-5, the Steelers outrun the Eagles 252-23 and outgain them 420-111. With the victory, Pittsburgh becomes the first team in NFL history to stop unbeaten teams in consecutive weeks after each had won at least six games.
2004 Steelers 24 at Browns 10
Unfazed by Gerard Warren's pregame threats (or anything Cleveland's defense throws at him), Roethlisberger becomes the first rookie quarterback to begin 7-0. During pregame warmups, Joey Porter punches Browns running back William Green, bloodying his lower lip during their fight. Both are ejected before the opening kickoff. Bettis, starting in place of the injured Duce Staley, gains 103 yards on 29 carries and scores 2 TDs. Ben isn't spectacular, but is very efficient. Roethlisberger also rushes for 41 yards as he smartly avoids pressure by running the few times the Browns are able to apply any pressure. Meanwhile, Browns QB Jeff Garcia is under siege almost every time he drops back, going only 7 for 16 for 110 yards while being sacked 4 times and throwing an interception.
2004 Steelers 19 at Bengals 14
Bettis runs for 129 yards and the Steelers' blitzing defense creates havoc, keeping the NFL's longest winning streak growing. Roethlisberger finishes 15 of 21 and throws the game-winning TD, but also loses 54 yards on 7 sacks as the Bengals come at him from all sides. In spite of his uncharacteristically shaky play, Ben wins his 7th NFL Rookie of the Week award for his efforts. Linebacker James Farrior has a 14-yard interception return to kill the Bengals' momentum in the first half, and in the second half, Cinci's offense manages only 42 yards and two first downs. The clinching play comes with 2:38 left and Carson Palmer under heavy pressure in his end zone. He throws the ball away, drawing a grounding call and a safety, after which Cinci fans -- keeping it "classy" as always -- throw beer bottles onto the field in disgust.
2004 Steelers 16 vs Redskins 7
Randle El scampers through the Redskins' coverage team on punt returns of 60 and 43 yards to set up two first-half scores -- Bettis' 4-yard touchdown run, his 11th of the season, and the first of Jeff Reed 's three field goals on a blustery day. Bettis starts when Duce Staley unexpectedly sits out a fourth straight game with a sore hamstring, and responds with 100 yards on 31 carries. His 47th career 100-yard game matches Franco Harris' team record. The Steelers are 10-1 for the first time since 1975, the second of their four Super Bowl championship seasons.
2004 Steelers 17 at Jaguars 16
Rookie of the Week Roethlisberger finishes 14 of 17 for 221 yards, 2 TDs and a passer rating of 158.0 (just three-tenths of a point from perfection), rushes for 40 yards and engineers a late Elway-esque drive to set up a 37-yard field goal by Jeff Reed with 18 seconds left for the win. Ben goes 3 of 4 for 39 yards on the winning drive, the only incompletion coming on a spike after he calmly lets the clock run down to avoid giving the Jaguars much time for a march of their own. Jacksonville has one last shot after a 19-yard completion from Byron Leftwich to Jimmy Smith, giving them a shot at a 60-yard field goal, which falls just short and wide right.
2004 Steelers 17 vs Jets 6
A game I attended. Bettis flips a 10-yard TD pass to Tuman 3 plays after surpassing the 13,000-yard rushing mark early in the fourth quarter, then seals the game on his 12th TD run of the season late in a decisive 14-point fourth quarter. Bettis' toss --his third career TD pass in 6 tries -- comes on third-and-3. He rolls to his right after taking a handoff from Roethlisberger and casually tosses the ball to a wide-open Tuman. Meanwhile, Chad Pennington is intercepted three times (Polamalu, Farrior and Hope).
2004 Steelers 33 at Giants 30
The main thing separating rookie QBs Ben Roethlisberger and Eli Manning in this one is that Ben makes his biggest plays with the game on the line. Roethlisberger gets off to a shaky start but goes on to complete 18 of 28 for a season-high 316 yards and hits four straight passes to set up Jerome Bettis' game-winning 1-yard run with 4:57 to go, leading the Pittsburgh Steelers to a 33-30 win over the Giants. The Bus carries 36 times for 140 yds and a TD, Randle El throws a 10-yd TD pass and Ward catches 9 for 134 yds. Meanwhile, Manning has the best game of his young career, completing 16 of 23 for 182 yards. But Roethlisberger shows he is all about the big play, hitting five passes of 34 yds or more in a much-hyped matchup with Manning, who only completes one pass over 20 yards and throws a devastating INT on New York's final drive to end the Giants' hopes.
2004 Steelers 20 vs Ravens 7
A game I was fortunate enough to attend. Still-unbeaten, Ben Roethlisberger throws 2 TD passes in a run-heavy offense before being pulled from a 20-7 Steelers victory with a rib injury caused by a blindside cheap shot by P.O.S. Terrell Suggs on a scoring pass. Ben finishes the game 14 of 19 for 221 yards, 2 TDs and 1 Int. Bettis runs for 117 yards in his 6th 100-yard game this season, and moves past Eric Dickerson on the NFL career rushing list. Burress returns from a 4-week layoff with a sore hamstring and makes an immediate impact with 3 catches for 97 yards, including a 36-yard TD pass from Ben as Pittsburgh drives 80 yards in 5 plays on its opening possession. Meanwhile, Jamal Lewis is held to 26 yards on 14 carries.
2004 Steelers 29 at Bills 24
Willie Parker, Brian St. Pierre and James Harrison -- who are these guys, you might ask? They represent the collection of outstanding but relatively unknown backups who keep the Steelers' roll going and end the Bills' playoff hopes. Parker, an undrafted rookie free agent, has 102 yards rushing, including a 58-yarder that sets up Jeff Reed 's 37-year field goal, Pittsburgh's go-ahead score. And then there is Harrison, the backup linebacker, who returns a fumble 18 yards for a touchdown to seal the victory. The Steelers go without Ben Roethlisberger, Jerome Bettis or a host of other starters, but still win their 14th straight to match the single-season record set by Miami in 1972. The Steelers also become just the fourth team in NFL history -- and the first in the AFC -- to finish 15-1.
2004 Post Season
2004 AFC Playoffs Steelers 20 vs Jets 17 OT
What an excruciating win! In my hand were a pair of tickets to the AFC Championship the following week... provided the Steelers first take care of business with the Jets. The Steelers take an early 10-0 lead fueled by a Jeff Reed FG and a Troy Polamalu INT in Jets territory, setting up a short Bettis TD run. But the Jets stun the Steelers with a 75-yd punt return by Santana Moss and an 86-yd pick-six by Reggie Tongue and take a shocking 17-10 lead into the fourth quarter. After tying the game on a shovel pass to Hines Ward with 6 minutes remaining, the Steelers then put me through one of the most nerve wracking finishes of my life. The Jets move into FG range with just over 2 minutes left, but Doug Brien misses the 47-yd attempt, giving my AFCC tickets new life. The reprieve is short-lived, however, as Big Ben is immediately picked off, setting the Jets up at the Pittsburgh 37 with 1:58 remaining. The Jets drive to the Steeler 24 and out trots Doug Brien for a shot at redemption. But Pittsburgh again dodges a bullet as Brien misses his 43-yd attempt as time expires. In overtime, Pittsburgh forces a Jets punt and starting at their own 13, Big Ben methodically drives the Steelers downfield using a steady diet of Duce Staley and Hines Ward, culminating in Jeff Reed's 33-yd FG to finally -- FINALLY -- win it. Once my heart starts beating again, I book my room at the downtown Doubletree for the following week.