Welcome to Revenge Week at SB Nation NFL, where we are celebrating the dish that’s best served cold. You can keep up with all our latest revenge content here.
In January 2002, the Pittsburgh Steelers were upset at home in the AFC Championship Game. An upstart Patriots team, led by Tom Brady and his overqualified backup Drew Bledsoe, won their first Super Bowl a week later. The Steelers have been waiting for postseason revenge ever since.
While the Steelers have won four games (out of, uh, 15) against their cross-division rival in the Brady era, it’s never happened in the playoffs, where New England has denied Pittsburgh of a spot in the Super Bowl three times. Ben Roethlisberger and company have spent nearly two decades waiting for revenge and hoping the moment Mike Tomlin sends Bill Belichick into the offseason with a terse handshake is on the horizon. But that moment may never come.
The NFL is loaded with great stories of comeuppance. Steve Smith delivered “blood and guts” to the Panthers’ doorstep as a member of the Ravens after being cut by Carolina in 2014. Brett Favre’s first game in Green Bay as a Viking saw him throw four touchdown passes in a key divisional victory. Even the mid-2010s Patriots — underdog to exactly zero people outside their own locker room — overcame Roger Goodell’s Deflategate ruling to win the greatest Super Bowl of all time (title vacated if you’re a Falcons fan. Also, I’m sorry).
But what about the teams that never got their revenge? Who are the ones that were left walled up in the NFL’s catacombs waiting for their chance to be Montresor?
The 49ers never got satisfaction against Richard Sherman
San Francisco’s Super Bowl window under Jim Harbaugh was abruptly closed in January 2014. In the NFC Championship Game, Sherman batted a potential game-winning pass in the corner of the end zone into the hands of teammate Malcolm Smith. This was an incredible play that turned downright legendary when the All-Pro cornerback celebrated with one of the greatest pro-wrestling promos the NFL has ever seen:
That left a championship-caliber team waiting for revenge against an NFC West rival, and it never came. The Niners fell off a competitive cliff, dropping to 8-8 in 2014 before firing Harbaugh for ... some reason. They’d win 13 total games the following three years, getting zero victories over Sherman and the Seahawks in that span. Only two contests in that 0-8 stretch were decided by single digits.
San Francisco has been recently (and briefly) ascendant, but its chance to even the score against Sherman vanished in 2018 when he was released by Seattle. Now he’s making $10 million per year in the Niners’ secondary. I’m beginning to think the Niners weren’t especially interested in revenge. — Christian D’Andrea
Steve McNair was a pain in the Jaguars’ ass
McNair didn’t look like a ruiner of Jacksonville’s world early in his career. In fact, he lost his first four games against the Jaguars and didn’t beat them until 1998, his fourth NFL season.
The weird part about McNair finally figuring out how to beat the Jaguars in the final years of the ‘90s is that’s the best Jacksonville has ever been.
The Jaguars were 11-5 in 1998 and then lit the NFL on fire with a 14-2 record in 1999. The only two losses for Jacksonville in the latter year came against the Titans, although Neil O’Donnell started the first for Tennessee due to an injury for McNair.
When the Jaguars hit the playoffs after their 14-win season, they were knocked out in the AFC Championship Game by those same pesky McNair-led Titans. He only threw for 112 yards in the win, but he destroyed Jacksonville with 91 yards and two touchdowns on only nine rushing attempts.
Two decades later, the Jaguars have still never been to the Super Bowl. They’ve been close, but no Jacksonville team was better than the 1999 version that McNair kicked to the curb.
McNair played the Jaguars in 10 more divisional matchups after that AFC Championship and won seven of them. The 3,359 passing yards and 464 rushing yards he racked up against Jacksonville were more than he had against any other team.
Derrick Henry now holds the Titans’ “Jaguars killer” title, but he has a long way to go before he inflicts the same pain McNair did on Duval. — Adam Stites
The Falcons are still waiting to beat the Patriots
You’ve heard all the 28-3 jokes by now. Atlanta fumbled the bag in historical fashion in Super Bowl 51 and hasn’t been able to get past that stink.
I’m honestly of the mindset that the Falcons don’t need to get revenge on the Patriots. You were up 28-3 in the Super Bowl. It was 28-9 with under 10 minutes left in the fourth quarter. If you can’t bring that game home, that’s on you and only you.
But damn, it would still feel good to beat the Patriots.
The Falcons had a chance to play the Patriots again during the 2017 season, but couldn’t deliver the goods. They were held scoreless until Julio Jones grabbed a touchdown with four minutes left in the game.
All the frustration that the Falcons and their fans have felt since #that #game was personified in Jones’ touchdown catch — he threw Malcolm Butler to the ground as he caught the ball.
Same, Julio. Same. — Charles McDonald
The Bears never got back at DeAngelo Hall
The Jay Cutler era was a wild rollercoaster ride for many Chicago Bears fans. There were some fun times, but a lot of it was wincing as he kept forcing throws into windows that didn’t exist. Numerous drives vanished into thin air as the ball went from the hands of Cutler into a defender. He threw an interception at the goal line in his first game as a Bear and looking back on it, it felt like a sign of things to come.
But there are few moments in the Cutler era which will top what happened against DeAngelo Hall one afternoon in 2010.
In a game which Chicago should have won, bad Cutler decided to show up and everything quickly went south. He ended up throwing four interceptions in that game. All four of them went straight to Hall. The Washington cornerback ended up tying a single-game NFL record for the most interceptions by a player. He even returned one of them back for an 87-yard touchdown. The feat is even more impressive considering all four picks occurred in the second half.
After he recorded his final interception with two minutes left in the game, Hall got down on both knees, arms out, and looked toward the heavens
It was a worthy celebration as everyone watching knew they just witnessed history. The Hall of Fame even requested for Hall’s jersey to be put in Canton.
After the game, Cutler told reporters Hall was “just another player” and it would be something the corner wouldn’t forget. He continued to pester Cutler and the Bears for the rest of his career, including this gem of a zinger just a few days after the four-interception game:
DeAngelo Hall to NFL Network in response to Jay Cutler: "If I had to play Jay Cutler every single week, man, I'd be in the Hall of Fame."— Zach Zaidman (@ZachZaidman) October 26, 2010
When he retired in 2017, Hall reminded everyone of his historic game and rehashed the quote he gave seven years prior when he said:
“If I could have played against Jay Cutler more, I probably would be in the Hall of Fame by now, but it didn’t quite work out.”
Mark down down another win (or interception) for Hall against the Bears. — Vijay Vemu
Brett Favre owned the 49ers so many times
The 49ers got their licks in against the Packers in the ‘80s and ‘90s, but one thing the 49ers consistently failed to do was beat Brett Favre. I don’t have specific games in mind that irked me, just many overlapping feelings of “gosh dangit, why can’t we beat this guy?”
Favre went 12-2 against the 49ers in his career, a better margin than against any one team, and I never felt like the 49ers really got a “signature” win before Favre elected to finally call it a career. Favre beat the Bears 23 times, but also lost to them 13 times. Even the Lions have packed on nine wins against the guy.
But the 49ers, in their prime (or close to it) just consistently fell to this man. He led the Packers to a 4-1 record over the 49ers in the playoffs!
I don’t have many sports grudges and don’t even feel that harshly toward Favre, but I sure wish the 49ers could have wiped that smug grin off his face in a big way, even later in his career. — James Brady
The Browns have never beaten Ben Roethlisberger when it’s mattered ... yet
It’s almost like Ben Roethlisberger’s entire career has been built on exacting revenge against the Browns. An Ohio native, Roethlisberger was passed over by his “hometown” team in the 2004 draft — Cleveland went with Kellen Winslow instead, yiiiikes — and was taken five picks later by a division rival.
In that time, Roethlisberger has a 23-2-1 record against the Browns. His 11 wins in Cleveland are more than any Browns starting quarterback since the team’s return in 1999. He has two Super Bowl rings.
Since 2004, the Browns have made the playoffs zero times, finished with a winning record once, and have had 26 different starting quarterbacks.
Roethlisberger was spared playing for the dysfunctional, “graveyard of quarterbacks” Browns and instead has spent the past 15 years as the starting quarterback for one of the most decorated franchises in the NFL. It’s fair to say Big Ben came out ahead after being “snubbed.”
But at a certain point, it’s just piling on, like when Tom Brady talks about the Patriots being underdogs weeks before their sixth Super Bowl championship. Enough is enough.
The Browns have beaten Roethlisberger, but never when it’s really mattered. They’ve also helped keep the Steelers out of the playoffs. Last season, if the Browns had lost to the Steelers in Week 1 instead of tied, or gotten a win over the Ravens in Week 17, then Pittsburgh would’ve been playing in January.
That’s not true revenge, though. That’s not delivering a gut-wrenching loss when something is on the line. I’m talking, bullying Roethlisberger into a five-turnover day at Heinz Field in late December with the AFC North up for grabs. Or pulling off a reverse Bengals: watching Roethlisberger melt down and stealing a win in the Wild Card Round.
Roethelisberger has had his fun. Now it’s time for the Browns’ turn to get back at Roethlisberger, as catharsis for their past draft mistakes, for all their humiliation, for their pitiful record recently against one of their oldest rivals. — Sarah Hardy