Friday, January 2, 2015

Baltimore vs. Pittsburgh in the Postseason

On Sunday, the Ravens held off the Browns on Sunday to clinch the AFC's final wild card spot and the Steelers beat the Bengals that night to claim the AFC North crown to set up a first-round meeting between these two rivals.

The Steel City has enjoyed great success against Baltimore in the Big Four postseasons, going 5-0 against the Colts and Ravens on the gridiron. Add in two World Series victories and it's a black and gold clean sweep so far.

Let's take a look at each of these showdowns in more detail:

1975 Divisional

The defending-champion Steelers rolled to a 12-2 record for the AFC's top seed. Because divisional foes could not meet in the first round of the playoffs and the Bengals grabbed the wild card spot, Pittsburgh drew the 10-4, third-seeded Baltimore Colts instead. Baltimore overcame a 1-4 start and rode a nine-game winning streak into Three Rivers Stadium, but they ran into the great Steel Curtain defense.

Colts quarterback Bert Jones was sacked on the fourth play of the game and went down with an injury to his throwing arm. A Jack Ham interception of backup Marty Domres set up Pittsburgh's first score, an 8-yard touchdown run by Franco HarrisIn the second quarter after a Terry Bradshaw interception, Domres hit Glenn Doughty for a 5-yard TD strike to tie the game. A Harris fumble led to a Colts field goal that gave the visitors a 10-7 lead in the second half.

That's when the Steel Curtain stepped up once more. Mel Blount picked off Domres and ran it back to the Baltimore 7-yard line, setting up Rocky Bleier's TD plunge that put the Steelers in front for good in the third. Bradshaw ran for a score from two yards out for some insurance in the final period.

Jones reentered the game for the Colts and led them down the field to the Pittsburgh 3-yard line. Down 21-10 in the fourth, Baltimore still had a chance if they could score, but Ham and Andy Russell put an end to it. Ham sacked Jones to force a fumble, one of five Colts turnovers. Russell picked it up and rumbled 93 yards for a touchdown that secured a 28-10 Steelers victory.

Pittsburgh edged visiting Oakland in the AFC title game before beating the Cowboys in Super Bowl X for their second straight championship.

The following year, Jones topped the league in passing to lead Baltimore's #1 offense to the AFC East title and earn MVP honors. The opening round of the playoffs brought a rematch with the Steelers, this time at Memorial Stadium in Baltimore.

Pittsburgh set the tone quickly when Bradshaw connected with Fred Lewis for a 76-yard touchdown strike on the third play of the game.  It turned into a laugher in the second quarter as the Steelers made it 26-7 by the intermission.

Despite Bleier and Harris both getting injured in the backfield, the Steelers kept their foot on the gas. In the fourth, Bradshaw threw his third touchdown pass, his second to Lynn Swann, and Pittsburgh cruised to a 40-14 win. The Steelers outgained the Colts 526-170 for the third-highest postseason yardage margin since 1940, behind the 2000 NFC Championship Game (Giants 41 Vikings 0) and Dan Marino's last game in 1999 (Jaguars 62 Dolphins 7).

The most interesting moment of the day came less than ten minutes after the game, when a small plane crashed into the upper deck of Memorial Stadium. Incredibly, no one was seriously hurt! The Steelers advanced to the AFC Championship Game in Oakland, where the Raiders thwarted their three-peat hopes, 24-7.

Yep, a plane in the upper deck (Link)

The Colts moved to Indianapolis after the 1983 season, but the NFL returned to Charm City in 1996 when the Browns moved from Cleveland. The Ravens' first coach was Ted Marchibroda, who piloted the Colts to the above playoff appearances in the 1970s. Brian Billick replaced him in 1999 and won a Super Bowl the following year.

As defending champions, Baltimore went 10-6 and finished behind the 13-3 Steelers in the AFC Central. They still reached the playoffs as a wild card, however, and after a 20-3 opening-round road win in Miami, the Ravens went to Pittsburgh.

Things got ugly quickly for Elvis Grbac and the Ravens offense. Here is how their first six possessions went: Chad Scott interception, three-and-out, three-and-out, Brent Alexander interception, three-and-out, Terry Allen fumble. By the time they finally got on the board with a field goal in the final minute of the first half, it was already 20-3 thanks in part to a pair of 1-yard touchdown runs by Steelers back Amos Zereoue.

A Jermaine Lewis 88-yard punt return touchdown brought the Ravens within ten, but the Steelers stayed in control and scored the game's final points on Kordell Stewart's fourth-quarter 32-yard strike to Plaxico Burress. The thorough 27-10 beating featured four Steelers takeaways, only seven Baltimore first downs and a 40:45-19:15 time of possession advantage for the victors.

Pittsburgh hosted the AFC Championship a week later, but fell 24-17 to an upstart New England Patriots team that would win three of the next four Super Bowls.

2008 was a strong year for the AFC, as the 11-5 Ravens could only muster the sixth seed and the Tom Brady-less Patriots missed the playoffs entirely with the same 11-5 mark. Baltimore scored road wins in Miami and Tennessee to reach the conference title game in Pittsburgh against the 12-4, second-seeded Steelers.

Staying with a familiar theme in these Pittsburgh-Baltimore games, the Steel Curtain dominated again. Ahead 6-0 in the first quarter, Casey Hampton and Troy Polamalu stuffed Joe Flacco on a 4th-and-1 at the Pittsburgh 34. Three plays later, Santonio Holmes reeled in Ben Roethlisberger's deep pass for a 65-yard score and 13-0 lead.

Two Willis McGahee touchdowns kept the Ravens close, but they still trailed 16-14 with under five minutes remaining. Polamalu picked off a Flacco toss and ran it 40 yards back for a TD to put it away. The last three Ravens possessions resulted in turnovers as McGahee fumbled and Tyrone Carter intercepted Flacco in the final minutes. The Steelers won 23-14 to advance to Super Bowl XLIII, where they won their record sixth Lombardi Trophy in a 27-23 thriller over the Arizona Cardinals.

Both teams went 12-4, but the Steelers won the division via tiebreaker. After Baltimore thrashed the Chiefs in K.C. in the first round, the rivalry was renewed anyway in the divisional round.

Rashard Mendenhall and Ray Rice traded rushing scores in the first quarter, but Baltimore took the lead late in the period when Terrell Suggs forced a Roethlisberger fumble that Cory Redding scooped up for a 13-yard touchdown (2:10 mark of attached highlight video).

The Ravens took a 21-7 lead in the second on Flacco's 4-yard pass to Todd Heap, but Roethlisberger tied it for Pittsburgh with third-quarter touchdown passes to Heath Miller and Hines Ward (4:45 and 5:20 in video). One field goal for each side kept the game even at 24 with under four minutes to play when the Steelers took over (7:57).

Ward's 3rd-and-10 conversion kept the drive alive before Roethlisberger hit Antonio Brown for 58 yards on 3rd-and-19. Set up at the Ravens' 4-yard line, Mendenhall was stopped twice, but on third down he ran in from two yards out for the go-ahead score. The last-hope drive started in Steelers territory, but a sack and three Flacco incompletions later, Pittsburgh held on for a 31-24 win and a trip to Super Bowl XLV. Their run ended in defeat, however, as Aaron Rodgers and the Packers edged them 31-25.


After winning the 1970 Fall Classic, the Orioles won 101 games in '71 and were favored to repeat as champions against the 97-win Pirates.

The visiting Bucs spotted Dock Ellis a 3-0 lead in Game One, but homers from Frank Robinson and Merv Rettenmund chased Ellis from the game in the second inning. Dave McNally held firm on the hill for Baltimore, allowing just the three unearned runs in a 5-3 complete-game victory. The O's thumped 14 hits in Game Two, including three each from Frank and Brooks Robinson, on their way to an 11-3 win before heading to Pittsburgh.

The Pirates got back in the series with a 5-1 win in Game Three behind Bob Robertson's three-run shot off Mike Cuellar and Steve Blass' three-hitter. Baltimore jumped on Luke Walker for three runs in the top of the first inning of Game Four, but Bruce Kison tossed six and one-third innings of one-hit shutout ball and Milt May's pinch-hit RBI single in the seventh helped the Bucs win 4-3 and tie the series.

For the pivotal fifth game, Pirates skipper Danny Murtaugh called on swingman Nelson Briles to start in his first appearance of the postseason. Briles made him look like a genius with a two-hit shutout that sent the Bucs back to Baltimore with two chances to clinch.

Over the first five innings of Game Six, it looked like they would clinch on the first try. Roberto Clemente tripled and homered and Bob Moose worked five scoreless frames. But Don Buford led off the sixth with a home run and Davey Johnson's single in the seventh off reliever Dave Giusti evened the score at 2-2. The Orioles almost won it in the ninth when Buford doubled down the right-field line, but the great Clemente's throw held Mark Belanger at third and he was stranded there.

In the next inning, McNally came out of the bullpen for the O's and wriggled out of a bases-loaded jam. In the bottom of the inning against Bob Miller, Frank Robinson walked, moved to third on Rettenmund's single and raced home on Brooks Robinson's sac fly to center to force a Game Seven.

Blass and Cuellar paired up again for the ultimate game, and both posted three zeroes to start. But then Clemente, in his outstanding showcase series, homered in the fourth to break the deadlock.

In the top of the eighth, Jose Pagan plated Willie Stargell with a double. That insurance run was necessary as the Orioles finally touched Blass in the bottom of the eighth on Buford's RBI groundout. Still clinging to a 2-1 lead, Blass worked a 1-2-3 ninth to secure the championship for the Pirates.

Clemente was named Series MVP for batting .414, with five of his 12 hits going for extra bases. Less than 15 months later, he was killed when his plane full of supplies for victims of an earthquake in Nicaragua crashed in the Atlantic Ocean.

Eight years after their first October meeting, the Pirates and Orioles squared off again. Pittsburgh won 98 games and edged the Expos by just two games to win the NL East before sweeping the Reds in the NLCS. The Orioles had an easier run, rolling to 102 wins and beating the Angels 3-1 in the ALCS.

Five runs in the bottom of the first were all Mike Flanagan and the O's needed in Game One. The Pirates drew even in Game Two thanks to Manny Sanguillen's tiebreaking single in the ninth.

At Three Rivers Stadium, visiting Baltimore scored an 8-4 win in Game Three, with leadoff man Kiko Garcia knocking four hits and driving in four. Down three in the eighth inning of Game Four, John Lowenstein and Terry Crowley both stroked pinch-hit two-run doubles in a six-run frame for a 9-6 win and commanding 3-1 series lead.

With their backs to the wall in Game Five, the Pirates rallied for two runs in the sixth, two in the seventh and three in the eighth as Bert Blyleven's four scoreless innings of relief keyed a 7-1 victory to stave off elimination.

Back in Baltimore for Game Six, John Candelaria and Jim Palmer dueled for six scoreless innings each. Dave Parker and Willie Stargell each drove in a run off of Palmer in the seventh and closer Kent Tekulve took it from there. Nine outs later, the Pirates had a 4-0 win and forced a seventh game.

Jim Bibby and Scott McGregor drew the starts in the winner-take-all contest, it was Bibby who blinked first. Rich Dauer hit the first pitch of the third inning over the wall and the Orioles took a 1-0 lead into the sixth. Bill Robinson singled with one out in the top of the inning and Stargell swatted a two-run homer on the next pitch, turning a 1-0 deficit into a 2-1 lead.

Tekulve set down Eddie Murray with the bases loaded to end the eighth before Pittsburgh tacked on two more runs in the top of the ninth.

Baltimore went down 1-2-3 in the ninth and the We-Are-Family Pirates had another title.

They are one of four teams to come back from 3-1 down to win a best-of-seven World Series (along with the 1925 Pirates, 1958 Yankees and 1985 Royals).

Those are the first seven Pittsburgh-Baltimore playoff matchups, we'll find out if the Steelers can make it 8-0 on Saturday night. As for the other AFC game, Bengals-Colts will be the second Cincinnati-Indianapolis postseason meeting. Who can forget the Indianapolis Racers' four-game sweep of the Cincinnati Stingers in the 1977 World Hockey Association East Division Semifinal? 

No comments:

Post a Comment