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NFL Classic Rewind: Steelers Stun 49ers, Ending Dreams of Undefeated Season

Posted on December 16, 2011 by A.J. Foss

The 1984 San Francisco 49ers are considered one of the greatest teams of the Super Bowl era as they went 18-1 and won the second of four Super Bowl titles in the 1980s.

But the 49ers’ chances of immortality of joining the 1972 Miami Dolphins as the only undefeated Super Bowl champions were shattered in the seventh game of the season when they were stunned by the Pittsburgh Steelers.

The 49ers were still led by head coach Bill Walsh and quarterback Joe Montana and their famous West Coast Offense, but it was the San Francisco defense that had been the major reason for their 6-0 start.

After allowing a combined 78 points in their first three games, the 49ers defense allowed only one offensive touchdown in the next three games and forced eleven turnovers.

While the 49ers entered their game with the Steelers riding high, Pittsburgh were coming off a humiliating 31-7 loss to the Miami Dolphins at home.
Pittsburgh was 3-3 under head coach Chuck Noll, who was in his 16th season as the Steelers’ head coach.

While they still had veterans John Stallworth, Jack Lambert, Donnie Shell, and Mike Webster, from the team’s glory days of the 1970s, the Steelers were no longer the dominant team in the NFL as they had not won a playoff game since their win in Super Bowl XIV against the Los Angeles Rams.

The Steelers traveled to San Francisco where they were double-digit underdogs and had backup quarterback Mark Malone in the starter role, filling in for David Woodley who was out with a concussion.

Needing to get off to a fast start, the Steelers received the opening kickoff and used their running game to put together a 12-play, 68-yard drive that ended with a two-yard touchdown run by Rich Erenberg that gave Pittsburgh the early lead at 7-0 midway through the opening quarter.

On their first offensive possession, the 49ers drove to the Steelers’ 34-yard-line before they had to settle for a field goal, which Ray Wersching made from 51 yards out.

But an illegal formation penalty was called on San Francisco, pushing them five yards back and out of field goal range, forcing Walsh to bring on the punting unit and kick the ball back to Pittsburgh, with the 49ers still behind 7-0.

Early in the second quarter, the Steelers put together another time consuming drive, an 11-play, 53-yard drive that took 6:15 off the clock and culminated with a 48-yard field goal by Gary Anderson that increased the Steelers’ lead to 10-0 with exactly eight minutes to go in the first half.

Following the field goal, Montana led the 49ers on a 13-play, 80-yard drive in which the San Francisco quarterback completed seven of seven passes for 59 yards and ran in for a seven-yard touchdown that brought the 49ers to within three points at 10-7 as the first half came to a close.

Steelers quarterback Mark Malone managed the game very well and led Pittsburgh to a big upset of the undefeated 49ers.

The third quarter was scoreless as the Steelers had a drive inside 49ers territory only to shoot themselves in the foot with three offensive penalties and a quarterback sack that set up a 3rd-and-41 at their 32-yard-line.

Pittsburgh did not get the 1st down and had to punt the ball back to the 49ers, who took over at their 12 and drove to the Steelers’ 13-yard-line as the third quarter came to an end.

On the opening play of the fourth quarter, Wersching came on to kick a 30-yard field goal that tied the game at 10.

Then on the Steelers’ first play after the field goal, defensive end Gary Johnson burst through the line and forced Malone to make a wobbly throw, that was picked off by linebacker Keena Turner.

Turner returned the pick 19 yards to the Pittsburgh 20-yard-line and four plays, the 49ers had the lead for the first time in the game as Wendell Tyler scored on a seven-yard touchdown run to give San Francisco a 17-10 lead with 10:48 left in the fourth quarter.

Just when it looked that the 49ers had finally seized control of the game, the Steelers had an answer and were able to tie the game with another touchdown.

The drive did not get off to a good start as a holding penalty pushed Pittsburgh back to their own nine-yard-line but a 16-yard run by Erenburg got the Steelers out of the shadow of their end zone and the drive going.

On the 15-play, 83-yard drive, the Steelers ran the ball 10 times for 52 yards, but Malone was a big contributor on the drive as he completed a 11-yard pass to Wayne Capers, snuck for a 1st down on a 4th-and-1, then hit Chris Kolodziejski for a 22-yard gain that gave Pittsburgh a 1st-and-goal at the 49ers’ seven-yard-line.

Now the Steelers needed to make a defensive stop and not allow Montana led the 49ers to the game-winning score in hopes of getting the ball back to Malone and the offense to attempt to win the game in regulation.

The Steelers got more than a defensive stop as linebacker Bryan Hinkle intercepted a Montana pass that was intended for running back Bill Ring and raced 43 yards before he was tackled at the San Francisco three-yard-line.

The 49ers were able to hold the Steelers out of the end zone, but Anderson came on and made a 21-yard field goal that gave Pittsburgh a 20-17 lead with 1:42 to go in the game.

Even though they had the lead and the 49ers had no timeouts, the Steelers were still weary of their lead since they had to contend with the one of the masters of the last-minute touchdown drive in Joe Montana.

Taking over at his 26-yard-line, Montana completed six of seven passes to drive the 49ers to the Pittsburgh 20-yard-line with 10 seconds to play.

Ray Wersching could not kick the 49ers into overtime, thus allowing the Steelers to come away with the upset win.

That is where Walsh called on Wersching to come on and kick the potential game-tying field goal that would send the game into overtime.

But Wersching’s 37-yard field goal sailed wide left and after taking a knee, the Steelers had come away with a 20-17 victory that knocked the 49ers from the ranks of the unbeaten.

It would be the last time that the 49ers would lose during the 1984 season as they would go on to win their remaining nine games of the regular season by a combined score of 295-105.

The 49ers would then storm past the New York Giants and the Chicago Bears in the NFC Playoffs, to advance to Super Bowl XIX where they faced the Miami Dolphins and record-setting quarterback Dan Marino.

San Francisco routed the Dolphins 38-16 to win their second of four Super Bowl titles during the 1980s.

While the 49ers continued on their dominance after their loss to the Steelers, Pittsburgh continued their inconsistency throughout the rest of the regular season.

It took a 13-7 win over the Los Angeles Raiders to clinch the AFC Central Division title for the Steelers with only a 9-7 record.

Despite having the worst record of the five AFC playoff teams, the Steelers would advance to the AFC Championship Game after a 24-17 upset win over the Denver Broncos in the AFC Divisional Round, before they fell to the Dolphins 45-28 in the AFC Title Game.


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