The Pittsburgh Steelers opened the 2020 season with a Monday Night Football victory over the Giants. Ben Roethlisberger was solid in his return, throwing for 3 TDs. This now brings the Steelers to 11-5-1 in season openers since Ben was drafted in 2004. Granted, Ben has not started all of those games, but over the last 16 seasons Steelers have used Week 1 victories to springboard themselves into playoff contention. During Ben’s tenure, only the Patriots (15), Packers (12), and Eagles (12) have more Week 1 victories than the Steelers. Here is a look back at the 16 previous Week 1 outings and how the Steelers fared that season.
Week 1: Steelers 24, Oakland 21
Result: 15-1, Division Champions, AFC Championship Game
Ben Roethlisberger did not start this game. It was his rookie year and Tommy Maddox was the starter. Maddox would get hurt the following week in Baltimore, the last game the 2004 Steelers would lose before the AFC Championship. Memorably, this was the game where Jerome Bettis established the role of the “Goal Line Back” with 5 carries for 3 yards and 3 TDs.
Week 1: Steelers 34, Titans 7
Result: 11-5, Wild Card, Super Bowl XL Champions
The Titans marched down the field and scored on their opening drive. The Steelers responded by scoring on six straight possessions with Willie Parker running for 161 yards. The Steelers would go on to a 7-2 start before an injury to Ben put Tommy Maddox back in the lineup. Ben returned and the Steelers went on a big run in December, rattling off 4 straight wins to sneak into the playoffs as the 6th seed and then becoming the first 6-seed to ever win the Super Bowl.
Week 1: Steelers 28, Dolphins 17
Result: 8-8, missed playoffs
After an offseason motorcycle crash, Ben Roethlisberger did not start in Week 1. This fell to Charlie Batch, who threw an 87-yard touchdown pass to Heath Miller in the fourth quarter to put the Steelers ahead. Joey Porter would seal the game with a pick-six. Ben returned the following week in Jacksonville but the Steelers stumbled by going 1-5 over the next six games. They did go 6-2 in the second half of the year and sent Bill Cowher out in style with a Santonio Holmes walk-off winner against Cincinnati to keep the Bengals out of the playoffs.
Week 1: Steelers 34, Browns 7
Result: 10-6, Division Champions, lost Wild Card round
The Mike Tomlin Era started with a bang as the Steelers went into Cleveland and thumped the hapless Browns. Interestingly, Derek Anderson replaced Charlie Frye in this game and became the starter for the rest of the season, leading the Browns to a 10-6 record – the last winning season Cleveland has had. The Steelers would go on to win the division but lost in the Wild Card round to Jacksonville.
Week 1: Steelers 38, Texans 17
Result: 12-4, Division Champions, won Super Bowl
The Texans had no answer for Fast Willie Parker who ran for 138 yards and 3 TDs. Hines Ward’s second touchdown gave the Steelers a 35-3 lead in the third quarter and they cruised to victory. This win kick-started their Division Championship and Super Bowl campaign.
Week 1: Steelers 13, Titans 10 (OT)
Result: 9-7, missed playoffs
The Steelers seemed to have a Super Bowl hangover against a Titans team that had been the top seed in the AFC the year prior. Things could’ve gone a lot worse for the Steelers if not for two missed field goals by Rob Bironas in the first half. Ben engineered an 8-minute drive to answer the Titans fourth-quarter field goal and tie the game. The Steelers nearly had the game won when Ben hit Hines down the middle of the field with a minute to go, but Ward fumbled inside the 5 and Tennessee recovered. The Steelers won the toss in overtime and drove down the field for a game-winning field goal. This inconsistency would mar the whole season. The Steelers would lose their next 2 games then go on a 5-game winning streak before turning around and losing 5 in a row. Finishing with 3 straight victories was not quite enough to get them into the playoffs.
Week 1: Steelers 15, Falcons 9 (OT)
Result: 12-4, Division Champions, Lost in Super Bowl
With Ben Roethlisberger suspended for the first four games, Dennis Dixon got the start. The Steelers and Falcons battled to a 9-9 tie in regulation which started to bring flashbacks of the tie between the two teams in 2002, the prior time Atlanta had visited Heinz Field. However, Rashard Mendenhall had other plans and took his first carry of overtime 50 yards around the right side for a walk-off touchdown. Roethlisberger would return in Week 6 and lead the Steelers to another Division Title and Super Bowl appearance.
Week 1: Ravens 35, Steelers 7
Result: 12-4, Wild Card, lost in Wild Card round
The “Baltimassacre” Game. The Ravens ran all over the Steelers in a thorough beat-down the likes of which this team had not experienced in quite some time. This was also the first Week 1 loss of Ben Roethlisberger’s career. Pittsburgh would work their way back into the hunt for the division title but lost in the Blackout Game to the 49ers in Week 15. This dropped them into a first-place tie with the Ravens (both at 12-4) but because of two head-to-head losses sent the Steelers to Denver in the opening round of the playoffs. I do not need to recount what happened there.
Week 1: Broncos 31, Steelers 19
Result: 8-8, missed playoffs
Peyton Manning, now in Denver, tore up the Steelers defense. After working their way back to a 6-3 record the Steelers would lose 5 of their next 6 due in part to a Ben Roethlisberger injury. The lone bright spot was Charlie Batch leading the Steelers to victory in Baltimore. The Steelers would finish 8-8 and miss the playoffs. Unfortunately, that 2-5 finish was a sign of things to come…
Week 1: Titans 16, Steelers 9
Result: 8-8, missed playoffs
This game started with Tennessee taking a safety on the opening kickoff by botching the kneel-down. However, most remember this as the game when Maurkice Pouncey was lost for the season on the opening drive. The Steelers never mustered much offensively and fell to the Titans. This marked the start of a four-game skid to start the season. The Steelers did their best to battle back from the 0-4 start but never really recovered and finished 8-8, missing the playoffs for the second straight season.
Week 1: Steelers 30, Browns 27
Result: 11-5, Division Champions, lost in Wild Card round
In a game that was absolutely a tale of two halves, the Steelers dominated the first half to the tune of a 27-3 lead. But the Browns made some second-half adjustments and went to an outside zone/bootleg play that they ran repeatedly and the Steelers could not stop. Cleveland came all the way back to tie the game before Jeff Reed booted a game-winner. This game became a microcosm of the season as the Steelers stumbled out of the gate to a 3-3 record. The turning point was Lawrence Timmons’ “Puke and Rally” on Monday Night Football against the Texans. This jump-started the Steelers to winning 8 of their last 11 games but they fell to the Ravens in the Wild Card round of the playoffs – memorably Troy Polamalu’s last game.
Week 1: Patriots 28, Steelers 21
Result: 10-6, Wild Card, lost in Divisional Round
The score here was a lot closer than the game actually was in reality. The defending champion Patriots (thanks Seattle for not running the ball) rolled out to a 21-3 lead shortly after halftime. The Steelers got back to just a 7-point deficit before Gronk’s third TD of the game put it away. Antonio Brown scored in the closing seconds. This team would go on to survive an injury to Ben Roethlisberger that forced Mike Vick and Landry Jones to start multiple games. The Steelers would earn a wild card and go into Cincinnati and snatch victory from the jaws of defeat thanks to the Bungles being the Bungles. A limp-armed Peyton Manning would beat an injury-riddled Steelers team in the Divisional round, going on to win the Super Bowl.
Week 1: Steelers 38, Redskins 16
Result: 11-5, Division Champions, lost in AFC Championship Game
The Steelers opened on a Monday Night in Washington. After falling behind on two early field goals, Antonio Brown scored two touchdowns (this was the twerking game) and DeAngelo Williams sealed the deal with two fourth quarter scores. The Steelers had a strong 4-1 start to the season before a 4-game losing streak sent things off the rails. They bounced back to win their last 7 regular season games as well as victories over Miami and Kansas City to reach the AFC Championship where they were throttled by New England.
Week 1: Steelers 21, Browns 18
Result: 13-3, Division Champions, lost in Divisional Round
The Steelers started the season by recovering a blocked punt in the end zone. Jesse James scored 2 TDs to lead the Steelers past Cleveland, who cut the lead to 3 with a fourth-quarter TD but never got the ball back. This was a great Steelers team that unfortunately lost their best defensive player to injury. They were never the same team after Shazier went out, allowing 26.7 points per game after his injury (17.5 per game with Shazier). Jesse James caught that ball, though. We won’t discuss the playoff disaster against Jacksonville.
Week 1: Steelers 21, Browns 21 (OT)
Result: 9-6-1, missed playoffs
In the rainy slop, the Steelers had a comfortable 21-7 lead in the fourth quarter. However, two fourth quarter fumbles let the Browns back in the game. Both teams missed field goals in overtime. The Steelers would get themselves into solid playoff position with a 7-2-1 record but the bottom fell out of the defense which struggled to stop anyone or force turnovers without Shazier. The Steelers lost 4 of their next 5 and missed the playoffs. Antonio Brown walked out on the team.
Week 1: Patriots 33, Steelers 3
Result: 8-8, missed playoffs
In another celebration of a Patriots Championship, the Steelers were the unlucky opponent. The following week Ben would be lost for the season with an elbow injury. The Steelers pieced together victories with Mason Rudolph and Duck Hodges at quarterback (mostly relying on the defense). Eventually, injuries caught up with them and they lost the final three games, falling to 8-8.
In total, the Steelers are now 11-5-1 in Week 1 during Ben Roethlisberger’s career. In the 16 previous seasons, when the Steelers won in Week 1 they averaged 11.2 wins per season. When they did not win (loss or tie) they averaged 9.2 wins per season. In the 10 years where the Steelers won their Week 1 Game, they made the playoffs 8 times. On the flip side they only made the playoffs twice in the 6 years they did not win their Week 1 game. All seven of the Steelers division titles during the Ben Roethlisberger era came after a Week 1 victory. So what does last night’s win over the Giants mean? In the grand scheme of things, it is just the first step in a much longer road. However, from an historical standpoint the Steelers have had much better success in winning the division and making the playoffs when they open the season with a victory.
Header Image source: Syracuse.com