The last time the Pittsburgh Steelers lost a game to Washington, Mark Rypien finished with 325 passing yards and two touchdowns in a 41-14 rout. That game was in 1991 and in the 25 years since, the Steelers have come out on top in five meetings between the two franchises.
Pittsburgh earned 16 trips to the postseason in those 25 years and four trips to the Super Bowl, winning the Lombardi Trophy twice during the stretch. Washington finished the 1991 season as Super Bowl champions, but has made just six trips to the playoffs since and hasn’t even made an NFC Championship.
But expectations are different in Washington now. After earning the NFC East title a year ago and establishing Kirk Cousins as the team’s franchise quarterback, anything less than another trip to the postseason would be disappointing.
"I don’t want to create an environment where these expectations are now we can’t meet them, because we’re just supposed to complete every pass now and play perfectly," Cousins said. "‘Kirk had all this time as the starter now, and he has so many weapons to throw to that he should go 50-for-50 and throw for 500 yards.’ It’s not going to be that.
"But, there’s no doubt that the circumstances seem to have been set up in a way where I don’t have many excuses, you know? We have a great opportunity to go be effective and play well, and that’s exciting and something for our fans to be excited about."
The problem for Washington during the 2015 season was a defense that finished No. 28 in yards allowed — not too far behind a Pittsburgh defense that was No. 21 and struggled especially against the pass.
Upgrading on the defensive side of the ball was a priority for both teams in the offseason with the Steelers drafting a pair of cornerbacks in the first and second round of the 2016 NFL Draft, followed by defensive tackle Javon Hargrave in the third round. Washington added Josh Norman to the mix and used three consecutive draft picks on defense after taking wide receiver Josh Doctson in the first round.
But even after the changes in the offseason, the best bet is that there will be a lot of points scored on Monday night. Even with Ben Roethlisberger sidelined in four games in 2015, the Steelers offense was No. 3 in the NFL.
With Le’Veon Bell and Martavis Bryant both gone because of suspensions, Washington’s best shot at keeping the Pittsburgh offense in check is to shut down Antonio Brown — a fiery competitor who even fights officials in training camp. With a matchup up against Norman, a cornerback with a history of scraps himself, there’s promise for fireworks.
"The big thing for both — they might try to play mind games with each other," Roethlisberger said. "I’ll talk to my guy and make sure he keeps a level head and just plays football."
That’s good advice for both teams as they begin campaigns that they hope extend into January and possibly a trip to Super Bowl LI. Getting there means winning big games against tough teams and Week 1 will be a telling test for both.