Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Series History: Bucs-Steelers

The Buccaneers are making just their second trip to Pittsburgh in the last 32 seasons, and their fourth overall, looking to double their win total in a series that has mostly belonged to the Steelers

STORY HIGHLIGHTS

  • The Bucs have yet to grab a win in Pittsburgh but Sunday's game will be just their fourth try in four decades
  • Tampa Bay's victory over the Steelers came in 1988, when S John Lynch had two of the Bucs' four interceptions
  • The Steelers lead the head-to-head series, which was most recently contested in 2010, by an 8-1 margin

    The Tampa Bay Buccaneers head to Pittsburgh this weekend looking for their first win in 2014.  If they get it, they will also leave the Steel City victorious for the first time ever.

The Steelers are one of six teams against which the Buccaneers are still looking for their first road win, and two of those involve clubs they've only visited once (Buffalo and Houston). Of course, the Bucs haven't had too many shots in Pittsburgh either, facing the Steelers on the road just three times, and only once in the last 31 years.  Overall, Pittsburgh leads the series, 8-1.

It's hard to blame the Buccaneers for their first loss in Pittsburgh; the 1976 team may have felt like sacrificial lambs when they went to old Three Rivers Stadium in the franchise's expansion year. With none of the roster-building advantages available to teams in later waves of expansion, the Buccaneers were 12 games into a franchise-opening 26-game losing streak when they took their last trip of '76 to Pittsburgh. Meanwhile, the Steelers were the two-time defending Super Bowl champions, an old-fashioned NFL dynasty smack dab in the middle of one of the most dominant eight-year periods in league history.

Tampa Bay's starting quarterback for that game was Terry Hanratty, who had spent his first seven NFL seasons as a backup with the Steelers. Hanratty, who would make just that one start for the Buccaneers and never play in the NFL again, completed one of four passes for -1 yards and one interception before giving way to Steve Spurrier.  Hall of Fame-bound wide receiver Lynn Swann caught two touchdown passes from Hall of Fame-bound quarterback Terry Bradshaw, in apparently very creative fashion. The play-by-play of the game – typed by hand in those days – felt fit to describe them in detail. "Bradshaw passes to Swann who eluded [Curtis] Jordan and caught the ball while on the ground about the 1-yard line and got up and ran in for a 35-yard touchdown pass play," and "Bradshaw almost trapped in backfield looped a pass to Swann for a 23-yard touchdown play."

When the two teams met again four years later, the Buccaneers had been to the playoffs, losing the 1979 NFC Championship Game to the Los Angeles Rams, who would then lose to Pittsburgh in Super Bowl XIV.  The Steelers' eight-year playoff run would end in 1980, but they were in the race at 5-4 when they came to Tampa in November. The Bucs hit a one-year lull in '80, going 5-10-1 before returning to the playoffs in '81 and '82, but they were riding a two-game winning streak when Pittsburgh visited, and at 4-4-1 still harbored playoff aspirations. In fact, Tampa Bay's stretch run might have gone differently had they beaten the Steelers that day, but the visiting team held on for a 24-21 victory that represents the closest game in the entire Bucs-Steelers series.

The game ended in controversy. Trailing by three, the Buccaneers took over at their own 22 with just under two minutes to play. Doug Williams drove the offense to midfield on the strength of a 30-yard completion to tight end Jimmie Giles. On third-and-10 from the Bucs' 44, Williams hit Giles again, somewhere near the first-down line. How near? That was the issue. The Buccaneers believed that the officials had marked it as a first down and Williams threw an incompletion that stopped the clock – perhaps intentionally – with 21 seconds to play. The Bucs were then stunned when the officials then signaled that it was Pittsburgh's ball, as the previous play had not been ruled a first down, making it fourth-and-one.  Curiously, the play-by-play says fourth-and-one at the "P46," meaning Pittsburgh 46, which would have in fact been a gain of 10 yards from the Bucs' 44. John McKay, the Buccaneers' head coach and noted quip-master, had some very choice comments for the officials after the game, of the variety that would surely get him fined in today's NFL.

The two teams would meet just twice more in the '80s, first in 1983 back in Pittsburgh when the Steelers were back in playoff form and the Bucs were right at the beginning of a long playoff drought.  Tampa Bay was, in fact, 0-8 when it went back to Three Rivers in late October, while the Steelers were 6-2, so it might have been a bit of a surprise when four Bill Capece field goals had the visitors up, 12-0, heading into the fourth quarter.  Tampa Bay's defense forced seven turnovers in the game and sacked Cliff Stoudt five times to put Pittsburgh in that hole, but Stoudt threw a touchdown pass to Wayne Capers midway through the final period to make it a game. After a field goal made it 12-10, the Steelers used the last four minutes of the game to drive 68 yards for the winning score, a two-yard run by Frank Pollard. The other matchup in the '90s was back in Tampa in 1989, a relatively uneventful  affair that did include two Mark Carrier touchdown passes in his lone Pro Bowl campaign.

While the Bucs-Steelers series might have started out with an expansion-era mismatch, the second half of their head-to-head history has mostly coincided with good to very good Tampa Bay teams.  In fact, the Steelers managed victories over the Buccaneers in 2001 and 2002, both playoff years, and 2010, when the team last hit double-digit victories.  All of those were in Tampa, and the 2002 meeting, in December, was the last game Tampa Bay lost before claiming the Lombardi Trophy a little over a month later.

Lynch09_24_14_1_a.jpg

S John Lynch led a defensive charge against Pittsburgh with two interceptions in a December game in Tampa in 1998

First, though, the Buccaneers got their lone win over the Steelers in 1998, which was the one year during the 1997-2002 span that Tampa Bay did not make the playoffs.  That 16-3 victory in Week 15 improved the Bucs to 7-7 – they had also just beaten Chicago and Green Bay to resurrect what seemed like very thin postseason hopes – and kept them alive in the race. The Bucs would eventually win their season finale in Cincinnati and set off for home with an 8-8 record and a chance for a Wild Card berth still existing, only to learn midway through the flight that Arizona had won to claim the last spot.  The Pittsburgh game was won by dominant defense, as John Lynch had two of the Bucs' four interceptions and Kordell "Slash" Stewart was completely held in check on a day that the Steelers gained just 168 yards of offense.

The Bucs stymied Stewart again when the Steelers returned in October of 2001 (100 passing yards, two interceptions, 32 rushing yards, no touchdowns) but had no answer for Jerome Bettis, who ran for 143 yards and a score.  The final 17-10 margin was misleading as the Bucs scored their first touchdown of the game with 37 seconds left in regulation. The rematch a year later happened, as mentioned, very late in the year, when the Bucs knew they were playoff-bound but were still fighting for a potential first-round bye. Unfortunately, starting quarterback Brad Johnson  had suffered a back injury the previous week in a narrow win over Detroit, leaving the Bucs to turn to their 2000-season starter, Shaun King. King was eventually relieved by Rob Johnson, but not before he threw a pick-six to Chad Scott that was the pivotal play in a 17-7 Steeler win.

The Bucs' only trip to Pittsburgh in the last three decades came in 2006, the result of the NFL's new balanced schedule rotation, which was put in place in 2002 and which guaranteed at least one road game against every team in the league over an eight-year period.  The '06 season was a downturn for the Bucs between two playoff campaigns, but the Steelers would go just 8-8 that year and were 4-7 when Tampa Bay came to town.  The game was a defensive struggle, featuring just over 500 yards of combined offense, but it was Pittsburgh that had the big plays – three interceptions and five sacks – and was able to come away with an easy 20-3 win.

The last meeting between the Bucs and Steelers occurred four years ago in Tampa in September.  The Bucs had gotten off to a surprising 2-0 and would eventually go 10-6 before losing out on a playoff spot on a third-level tiebreaker.  The Steelers were also 2-0, en route to a 12-4 record and their most recent Super Bowl appearance (a loss to Green Bay in SB XLV).  This day was all Pittsburgh, as the Steelers raced out to a 28-6 halftime lead on the way to a 38-13 victory. With Ben Roethlisberger ailing, the Steelers turned to the ageless Charlie Batch, who threw three touchdown passes, two of them to Mike Wallace.  Batch tossed only 17 passes on the day because Rashard Mendenhall took care of business on the ground with a 143-yard, one-touchdown effort.

Bucs-Steelers Game-by-Game Record:

1976

L, 42-0

Pittsburgh

1980

L, 24-21

Tampa

1983

L, 17-12

Pittsburgh

1989

L, 31-22

Tampa

1998

W, 16-3

Tampa

2001

L, 17-10

Tampa

2002

L, 17-7

Tampa

2006

L, 20-3

Pittsburgh

2010

L, 38-13

Tampa


Series Notes:

  • Overall Season Series: Steelers lead, 8-1
  • Bucs' Home Record: 1-5
  • Bucs' Road Record: 0-3
  • Current Streak: Lose 4 (2001-10)
  • Buccaneers' Longest Winning Streak: 1 (1998)
  • Steelers' Longest Winning Streak: 4 (1976-89, 2001-10)
  • Regular Season Point Total: Buccaneers 104, Falcons 209
  • Most Points in a Game for Tampa Bay: Steelers, 31, Buccaneers 22 (1989)
  • Most Points in a Game for Pittsburgh: Steelers 42, Buccaneers 0 (1976)
  • Most Points, combined: Steelers, 31, Buccaneers 22 (1989)
  • Fewest Points in a Game for Tampa Bay: Steelers 42, Buccaneers 0 (1976)
  • Fewest Points in a Game for Pittsburgh: Buccaneers 16, Pittsburgh 3 (1998)
  • Fewest Points in a Game, combined: Buccaneers 16, Pittsburgh 3 (1998)
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