Steelers postseason history: Jan. 5, 2003 -- Comeback against Cleveland

Written by Dan Gigler on .

Since the Steelers have the wrong kind of home field advantage this postseason, we'll take a look back at some of the highlights and disappointments of playoffs past ...

Today: January 5th -- A blowout loss in 1997; one of the all-time greats in 2003 and a heartbreaker in 2008.

January 5, 1997 -- AFC Divisoinal Playoff @ New England


The fog game.

fog_martPrior to the game a massive fog rolled into Foxboro making the players on each side look like ghosts -- often hardly visible on the field, but it was only the Steelers, as Ed Bouchette wrote, it was the Steelers -- who would've hosted a third straight AFC Championship game had they won -- who played like they were both physically and mentally in a fog.

In what would be his last game as a Steeler, Rod Woodson (above) was victimized early on a 53-yard Drew Bledsoe pass to Terry Glenn, setting up a Curtis Martin touchdown, in what turned out to be the only scoring New England would need en route to a 28-3 victory that is the second-worst postseason beating the Steelers have endured in 54  playoff games.

What had been a dominant Steelers defense on the season had no answer whatsoever for New England. The Pittsburgh native Martin would add three more before the day was over, including a 78-yard scoring run. The Steelers had no answer for the Taylor Allderdice and Pitt alum, who racked up 166-yards on the day.

The Steelers offense couldn't get anything going and head coach Bill Cowher eventually replaced starting quarterback Mike Tomczak with Kordell Stewart, who promptly went 0 for 10 in passing attempts.

CNN's pregame broadcast which gives you a real feel for the fog, plus an excellent Pittsburghese pronunciation of "Pixburgh" by Curtis Martin (at 1:23): 

January 5, 2003 -- AFC Wild Card vs. Cleveland


Call this one 'The Resurrection.'

res_FUIt's easily in the top 3 of Steelers' moments at Heinz Field, maybe even number two.

On a classic Pittsburgh postseason Sunday -- gunmetal grey skies, snow squalls and a sloppy track -- the Steelers pulled off one of the great comebacks of their entire history (which is quite a statement) against their oldest rivals.

Playing host to historical arch-nemesis Cleveland (in what's remains their only playoff game since re-joining the league in 1999) tensions were heightened with head coaches Bill Cowher and Butch Davis's open disdain for one another, as well as an ongoing fued between Steelers LB Joey Porter and Cleveland RB William Green.

However, two early interceptions by Tommy Maddox and an Antwaan Randle El muffed punt and the Steelers were dissected like a frog in freshman biology class by Browns quarterback Kelly Holcomb (429 yards, 3 TDs) and trailed by 21 points early in the third quarter (24-7). 

But after being brutalized in the first half (their only score came from an Antwaan Randle-El punt return) the Steelers settled down. Tommy Maddox got in a groove, finding Plaxico Burress and Jerame Tuman for touchdowns and managed to pull to 27-21 in the fourth quarter.

Still, Cleveland could not be stopped. Holcomb found Andre Davis for a touchdown that made it 33-21 with 10:17 left. A 2-point attempt failed. 

The teams traded quick punts and Pittsburgh eventually answered when Tommy Maddox connected with Hines Ward on a touchdown pass to make it 33-28 with 3:06 left. Cleveland could not convert a first down, which would've likely iced the game and the Steelers got the ball back with 2:38 left.

Maddox moved the Steelers down the field and with 58 seconds left, Chris Fuamatu Ma-afala (above right) bulled his way to a three-yard touchdown run. Antwaan Randle El found Jerame Tuman with a gadget play pass for the two-point conversion and the Steelers lead 36-33.

Cleveland had one last gasp to get into field goal range, but with no timeouts, the clock expired after Davis could not get out of bounds on a completed pass.

January 5, 2008 -- AFC Wild Card vs. Jacksonville


After an 8-8 Super Bowl slump year that was the last season under head coach Bill Cowher, the Steelers returned to the postseason -- however briefly -- in Mike Tomlin's rookie coaching campaign. 

jax_alanPittsburgh played host to Jacksonville, who had beaten them at Heinz Field just three weeks prior behind the rushing attack of career Steelers killer Fred Taylor. In that game, the Steelers fell behind 22-7 in the third quarter before mounting a furious comeback and tying the game 22-22 late in the fourth quarter -- only to be vanquished by Taylor and the Jags.

This game had much the same feel. Down 28-10 as the fourth quarter began, Ben Roethlisberger led the Steelers to three consecutive touchdowns -- but missed to conversion attempts -- and went ahead 29-28.

The Steelers defense pushed Jacksonville to a 4th & 2 with 1:56 to play. They stop the Jags, they win. But David Garrard executed a perfect delayed QB draw and scampered for a 32-yard first down that set up a game-winning Josh Scobee field goal. There were howls of uncalled holding fouls on the play (decide for yourself below) but it mattered little, as Pittsburgh fell 31-29 in what was Alan Faneca's last game as a Steeler.

Ed Bouchette's game story

Ron Cook: Offseason issues aplenty

Bob Smizik: Defense falters one last time

Garrard's run:

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