2000: 0-3 Start with Promise on the Horizon
On opening day of the 2000 campaign, Pittsburgh’s offense looked hapless against the Baltimore Ravens and their storied defense which carried the team to a Super Bowl title later that year. The Steelers were shut out 16-0, gained only 30 rushing yards, and Graham went 17 for 38 for 199 passing yards.
Losing to a much-improved team like Baltimore was expected, what was not expected however was the “end of game abortion” which took place the following weekend in Cleveland.
Armed with a 20-17 lead at the beginning of the fourth quarter, Pittsburgh’s defense squandered the lead after they allowed two field goals. Luckily for them, they got the ball back with 2:45 to play and were only down 23-20. To his credit, Graham led his team 61 yards down the field to the Cleveland eight yard line with two minutes still left to play.
Of course, that was the moment when piss-poor clock management and ridiculous decision-making set in for Pittsburgh. The offense dawdled, ran only three plays during that span, and Cleveland won after Graham was sacked by Courtney Brown on third down with 14 seconds left! Instead of throwing the ball away for the chance at a game-tying field goal, Graham took the sack and Pittsburgh lost 23-20 after they ran out of time.
After that horrendous loss to the Browns, the 0-2 Steelers headed home to play the defending AFC Champion Tennessee Titans the following weekend. At that time, Tennessee had absolutely owned Pittsburgh, and the Titans/Oilers had won their last five games against the Steelers.
Even though Tennessee had to start Neil O’Donnell in place of Steve McNair that weekend, it certainly seemed like Pittsburgh would be throttled and fall to 0-3. Negativity aside, Pittsburgh’s young team “nutted up” that day and gave the AFC’s eventual #1 seed in the postseason that year all that they could handle.
Down 13-6 late in the third quarter, the Steelers’ offense came roaring back to tie the game at 13-13, and eventually took a 20-16 lead with 9:25 remaining. Everything appeared to be going Pittsburgh’s way, especially after Jason Gildon knocked O’Donnell out of the game with just over two minutes left. Sadly, Steve McNair came off of the bench, rallied the Titans, and drove 64 yards in four plays to give Tennessee a 23-20 lead with just over one minute left.
Like O’Donnell, Graham was also knocked out of the game on his team’s final offensive drive. Unfortunately for the Steelers Kordell Stewart could only get his team far enough for Kris Brown to attempt a 50 yard field goal with 25 seconds to go. Brown missed the kick, like he did so many times at home during his career in Pittsburgh, and the Steelers dropped to 0-3 on the season.