The Pittsburgh Steelers face the Denver Broncos this Sunday having lost four of their last five games against Denver. That one win was a 34-27 triumph at Heinz Field in 2015.
When we look at Steelers classic games against the Broncos, one contest that stands out is the 2005 Conference playoff final when the Steelers wanted to move Jerome Bettis’ retirement party to Detroit.
Having come so close the previous year when they lost in the Conference game, Jerome Bettis postponed his retirement in the hope that his final year in the NFL would end in his home town to play in the Championship game.
The Steelers 11-5 regular season record in 2005 saw the team go into the playoffs as the last seed. To win their fifth Lombardi, the Steelers would have to surmount three road trips. The Cincinnati Bengals had taken the North division and would play host to the Steelers in the first round.
Coach Bill Cowher appreciated the task his team faced and declared the Steelers would go as far as their second-year quarterback Ben Roethlisberger would take them.
After knocking off the Bengals 31-17, the Steelers traveled to Indianapolis where they squeezed past the Colts 21-18.
The Steelers had one final hurdle to overcome to make their sixth Super Bowl, a road trip to Denver who had dumped the Patriots out of the playoffs.
The Steelers vs the Broncos AFC Championship January 2006
With a depressing 1-3 record in AFC title games over the previous ten years, the odds appeared stacked against the Steelers. To counter that, at the time no team held a better tally of 15-3 wins on the road including playoffs over two seasons.
We’ve been underdogs pretty much every week since we got into this thing,” said Coach Cowher. “We don’t take ourselves too seriously.”
The Steelers were 5-13-1 in Denver with three straight losses in the rarefied atmosphere of Mile High Stadium. The Broncos had won four straight championship games in Denver and were the -3 favorites to head towards Detroit for Super Bowl XL
Roethlisberger believed the Steelers were a better team than in his rookie season, despite having a worse regular season record. “I told people from day one we can be a better team and not have a better record,” Roethlisberger said. “I think we’ve done that,” he added.
Jeff Reed kicked the Steelers into a lead with a 47-yard field goal on their first possession and the Steelers kept control throughout the rest of the sixty minutes. After Denver’s Jake Plummer fumbled and Casey Hampton recovered, the Steelers went 39 yards and added a 12-yard touchdown catch from Cedrick Wilson.
A Denver field goal reduced their deficit before a Steelers 80-yard drive ended with Jerome Bettis forcing his way into the end zone from 3 yards to extend Pittsburgh’s advantage to 17-3.
As the first half was winding down, an Ike Taylor interception led to another short field, this one of 38 yards. Hines Ward hauled in a 30-yard touchdown pass from an agile Roethlisberger throwing on the run. As the Steelers built their 21-point half time lead, Roethlisberger had been successful on 6 of 7 third downs.
Late in the third quarter, Plummer’s touchdown pass to Ashley Lelie reduced the Steelers advantage, but Reed’s 42-yard field goal at the beginning of the final period provided the Steelers with a 27-10 lead.
Midway through the fourth quarter, Denver briefly tasted the flavor of a comeback when Mike Anderson ran in a 3-yard touchdown. Those hopes turned soured as the Steelers defense stifled any possibility with a forced fumble from Brett Keisel.
Roethlisberger completed the scoring, faking a handoff before going to the outside ahead of diving over for a 4-yard touchdown. The 34-17 Steelers victory booked their ticket to Super Bowl XL.
“Everybody said we couldn’t do it,“ noted Joey Porter before he added, “We just took the scenic route.”
Dan Rooney admitted, “It feels great today. The coach already told me we’re going to the Super Bowl to win it, not just to be there.”
Coach Cowher was going to his second Super Bowl and this time would get to hold the Lombardi trophy aloft.
The first part of Jerome Bettis’ dream to play in the Super Bowl in his hometown had come true and the second part to win his Super Bowl ring wasn’t too far behind when they beat the Seahawks 21-10.