FOXBOROUGH, Mass. — The New England Patriots visit the Pittsburgh Steelers this Sunday at Heinz Field, which is the site of some of their most memorable victories. It’s also a football environment coach Bill Belichick has long said he appreciates.
“It’s a great environment, a great football area — Western Pennsylvania. Pittsburgh has had a lot of great players and great coaches — high school football, college football, pro football, championships in that area, both collegiately and professionally. It’s great history and tradition there,” Belichick said Tuesday.
“The fans are very passionate about football and that’s reflected at the stadium. It’ll be loud. It’ll be intense.”
The Patriots have often thrived in that setting, with special teams playing a huge role in their first win at Heinz Field, and more recently, the Tom Brady-led offense leading the way.
Consider this history at Heinz Field in the Bill Belichick era (2000-present):
Jan. 27, 2002 — Patriots 24, Steelers 17 (AFC Championship): In Brady’s first year as a starter, the Patriots relied on a 55-yard Troy Brown punt return for a touchdown, and a blocked field goal returned 49 yards by Antwan Harris for a touchdown to stun the Steelers and move on to Super Bowl XXXVI, where they would shock the Rams. Behind the scenes, as a form of motivation, Belichick had relayed to players how the Steelers had given players a day off to pack for the Super Bowl and make arrangements. So the Patriots entered the game with a big chip on their collective shoulder, and it only grew when running back Amos Zereoue kicked the ball off Adam Vinatieri’s tee in warm-ups and Joey Porter barked at the Patriots during warm-ups. Brady had injured his ankle, leading Drew Bledsoe to take over, which added another unexpected layer to the game.
Oct. 31, 2004 — Steelers 34, Patriots 20: The Patriots, who had won two Super Bowls in the prior three seasons, were rolling into Pittsburgh having been victorious in their first six games of the 2004 season and on a 21-game winning streak overall. Hype for the game was high, especially coming on Halloween, and with the Steelers at 5-1. Vinatieri’s 43-yard field goal gave the Patriots an early 3-0 lead before the Steelers scored the game’s next 24 points, aided by Deshea Townsend’s 39-yard interception return for a touchdown of Brady. With then-rookie quarterback Ben Roethlisberger going 18-of-24 for 196 yards, with two touchdowns and no interceptions, he outdueled Brady in a battle of up-and-coming stars. But Brady would get the last laugh in the playoffs.
Jan. 23, 2005 — Patriots 41, Steelers 27 (AFC Championship): In a rematch from the AFC Championship Game from three seasons prior, the Patriots jumped out to a 24-3 halftime lead, with Rodney Harrison intercepting Roethlisberger and returning it 87 yards for a touchdown. That was the year the Patriots were ravaged by injuries on defense, which had receiver Troy Brown playing cornerback in the game. Receiver Deion Branch had four catches for 116 yards and a touchdown, setting up a Super Bowl XXXIX date with the Eagles.
Sept. 25, 2005 — Patriots 23, Steelers 20: Having defeated the Steelers in the AFC Championship nine months prior, Week 3 of the regular season brought the teams back together at Heinz Field. A Vinatieri 43-yard field goal with one second remaining in regulation was the difference. The Patriots, who entered the game ravaged by injuries, withstood an 85-yard Hines Ward catch-and-run touchdown and three turnovers to win. Brady was 31-of-41 for 372 yards.
Nov. 14, 2010 — Patriots 39, Steelers 26: Coming off a surprising loss to the Cleveland Browns, the Patriots were sparked by three touchdown catches from then-rookie tight end Rob Gronkowski in a resounding win. The Steelers had entered as the league’s top-rated defense. “That’s the NFL,” Belichick said that day. “If you knew what was going to happen in this league [each week], you’d make a lot of money.” The Patriots had led 13-3 at the half and 29-10 midway through the fourth quarter after safety James Sanders returned a Roethlisberger interception 32 yards for a touchdown. Brady was 30-of-43 for 350 yards.
Oct. 30, 2011 — Steelers 25, Patriots 17: The Patriots’ defense couldn’t provide enough resistance from the get-go, with tight end Heath Miller eating them up over the middle on the opening drive, which set the tone for the day. The formula for the Steelers was simple: Keep the ball away from Brady, and they did so against a defense that couldn’t provide consistent pressure. Pittsburgh won the time-of-possession battle 39:22 to 20:38, one of the most lopsided games in Belichick’s coaching tenure. Playing more man coverage aided the Steelers’ defense.
Oct. 23, 2016 — Patriots 27, Steelers 16: With Roethlisberger out with a knee injury, the Patriots were opportunistic in taking advantage of backup Landry Jones’ miscues. Running back LeGarrette Blount rushed for 127 yards, and Gronkowski tied Stanley Morgan’s franchise record for most touchdowns (68) and most touchdown receptions (67).