After closing the 1990s with back-to-back losing seasons, the Pittsburgh Steelers opened 2000 with three straight defeats, and it appeared as though the team's fans were in for another long, difficult year. But during the losing streak, Cowher and his staff continued to emphasize and build upon the positives, and the tide began to turn. The Pittsburgh Steelers won nine of their last 13 games of the season, and they closed Three Rivers Stadium with an emotional win over the Washington Redskins.
The 9-7 record in 2000 brought the team to the cusp of the AFC playoffs, and the Pittsburgh Steelers used that as a springboard to 2001 and its inaugural year in Heinz Field. On the way to finishing 13-3, winning the final AFC Central Division title before realignment and earning the No. 1 seed in the AFC playoffs, the Pittsburgh Steelers posted winning streaks of five and seven games. They eliminated the defending champion Baltimore Ravens from the playoffs before losing the AFC Championship Game to New England, the team that went on to win Super Bowl XXXVI.
The 2002 season opened with high expectations, but a disappointing start brought about change at quarterback and Tommy Maddox stepped in for Kordell Stewart. Maddox took charge of the offense and the Pittsburgh Steelers soon became a passing threat. Maddox led the Pittsburgh Steelers to the inaugural AFC North title and led them in an exciting come-from-behind win over the Cleveland Browns in the AFC Wild Card Playoff game at Heinz Field. The season came to a disappointing end when the Pittsburgh Steelers lost to the Tennessee Titans in the AFC Divisional game in overtime.
Another year of high expectations welcomed the Pittsburgh Steelers to the 2003 season. But it wouldn't be the case as they finished the season 6-10 and missed the playoffs.