In my 20 years of covering Pittsburgh sports and 46 years of following them as a fan, I’ve never seen a Pittsburgh team get off to a worse start in a postseason game than the Steelers did in the postseason loss to the Browns Sunday night.
They got down 28-0 in the first quarter. They snapped the ball into the end zone for a Cleveland defensive touchdown on the first play. Ben Roethlisberger threw two interceptions and led a three-and-out, translating into 21 more Cleveland points over the remaining 14 minutes, 46 seconds before the quarter mercifully ended.
It was such a bad start, it put the horrid first quarter of the team’s most recent playoff effort to shame. That’s when the Steelers got down 14-0 to Jacksonville after allowing a game-opening touchdown march of 66 yards to go along with a punt, an interception and a turnover on downs that resulted in a third Jags touchdown at the start of the second quarter.
So, no, that one doesn’t even come close.
Here are a few others that came to mind as I cobbled together a list of awful playoff starts that can, at least, be mentioned in the same breath as the Steelers’ two most recent trips to the postseason.
1. 1991 NLCS Game 7: Having failed to eliminate the Atlanta Braves in Game 6 of the 1991 National League Championship Series, the Pirates had another shot to sew up the National League pennant and get to the franchise’s first World Series since 1979.
That hope didn’t last long. Atlanta’s Ron Gant hit a first-inning sacrifice fly. Then Brian Hunter hit a two-run first-inning home run, and the Braves knocked John Smiley off the mound after recording just two outs.
Atlanta pitcher John Smoltz went on to twirl a six-hit shutout.
On this day 1991: The #Braves won their first National League pennant since moving from Milwaukee. Brian Hunter belted a two-run home run in the 1st inning and John Smoltz fired a 4-0 shutout at the Pittsburgh Pirates in Game 7 of the NLCS. pic.twitter.com/A0qeLjbeYC
— Grant McAuley (@grantmcauley) October 17, 2019
The Pirates had won 1-0 in Game 5 behind Zane Smith. They lost 1-0 to Steve Avery in Game 6. So the Bucs managed just 16 hits and two runs over the final 27 innings of play.
The Braves went on to lose the World Series to the Minnesota Twins. But they’d be back in the 1992 NLCS to face the Pirates in a rematch and …
… all right, fine! Roll the clip. Let’s get it over with.
“Bream to the plate… SAFE! SAFE AT THE PLATE! The @Braves go to the World Series!”
Watch the epic Game 7 of the 1992 NLCS at 2:30pm and 10pm ET on MLB Network 📺 pic.twitter.com/RyzGYSXrnJ
— MLB Network (@MLBNetwork) April 3, 2020
Ironically, the Pirates got off to a great start in that game. They jumped out to a 1-0 lead and took a 2-0 lead into the ninth before THAT happened.
2. Game 7 2010 Eastern Conference semifinals: Much like the series above, the Penguins failed to eliminate the underdog Montreal Canadiens in Game 6 when they had the chance.
Game 7 was back in Pittsburgh. If the Penguins lost, that would end up being the last game in Mellon Arena. Which is exactly what wound up being the case.
Sidney Crosby took a penalty 10 seconds into the game. Brian Gionta scored on the ensuing power play 22 seconds later. Former Penguin Dominic Moore scored later in the period, and the Canadiens ended up tacking on two more goals early in the second.
Marc-Andre Fleury was pulled, and the Penguins goaltender smashed his stick and nearly tore down the tarp over the walkway into the locker room.
Montreal ended up winning the game, eliminating the Penguins and closing Mellon Arena.
3. Game 6 2012 Eastern Conference quarterfinals: The Penguins and Philadelphia Flyers had played a crazy first five games of this series that featured 50 goals — and roughly 51 fights if memory serves.
The Flyers won the first three games. The Pens scrapped back to stay alive over the next two. So the series shifted back to Philadelphia for Game 6.
On that infamous first shift, Claude Giroux decked Crosby and scored a goal 32 seconds into the game.
Scott Hartnell also scored in the first. And the Flyers skipped into the second round with a 5-1 elimination win.
That was the so-called “passing of the baton game” from Crosby to Giroux.
I think it’s safe to say Crosby got that baton back eventually, no?
4. 2015 National League Wild Card: At PNC Park, the Pirates hosted the Cubs and Cy Young winner Jake Arrieta in their third straight wild-card game.
Arrieta was virtually unhittable all year. And the Pirates knew they couldn’t afford to get down early and give up any cheap runs. So manager Clint Hurdle started Sean Rodriguez at first base for his defensive prowess, benching Pedro Alvarez and his bat.
In the first inning, Gerrit Cole allowed a lead-off single to Dexter Fowler. He stole second. Kyle Schwarber drove him in, and Rodriguez couldn’t handle a low throw from Neil Walker which allowed Anthony Rizzo to reach base. Cole had to throw 22 pitches.
In the bottom of the first, Andrew McCutchen managed to get a single. But Arrieta struck out Starling Marte. And the energy was sapped from the building.
Whatever was left exited on the vapor trail from Schwarber’s 430-foot home run in the third inning. And the game was essentially over.
Oh, except for the benches-clearing incident and “S-Rod” knocking out the Gatorade cooler.
Arrieta wound up with a complete-game five-hit shutout, including 11 strikeouts. The Cubs won 4-0.
5. A couple of bad Game 1 starts: Let’s look at some “big picture” bad starts of a few series for the Penguins in Game 1 contests.
Some “teachable moments” — if you will —at the dawn of the Crosby-Malkin era.
How about Game 1 of the 2007 quarterfinals versus the veteran Ottawa Senators? That was the first postseason game ever for that group. And they got smoked 6-3, allowing three goals in the first 25 minutes. Ottawa breezed through the series 4-1.
Then there was Game 1 of the 2008 Stanley Cup Final in Detroit. Remember when Fleury fell when taking the ice for warmups? The Penguins got blanked 4-0. Then again 3-0 in Game 2. The Red Wings won the seroes in six games.
In ’07, the Penguins looked young and not quite ready for the playoffs. They learned. And got to the Final in ‘08.
Where the Red Wings made them look not quite ready for that stage either. Until the next year when …
…. OK, roll that clip, too.
— Master Chief official (@wyattinator) April 1, 2020
Now we are even.
6. Super Bowl XXX: We’ll wrap up with one more from the Steelers. Super Bowl XXX versus the heavily favored Dallas Cowboys.
Dallas got a field goal on the opening drive. The Steelers went three-and-out.
Troy Aikman got the ball back and threw a 47-yard bomb to Deion Sanders — playing offense. You know, just to be Deion. Jay Novacek caught a touchdown. And it was 10-0 before the pizza guy got to the house.
The Steelers got down 13-0, then 20-7. But they scrambled back before losing 27-17 because Larry Brown intercepted Neil O’Do…
….NO!!! We aren’t rolling those clips. I’m drawing the line there. Enough punishment for one day.
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