CLEVELAND -- Even during the darkest moments, there wasn't a single moment this season when the Pittsburgh Steelers considered throwing in the Terrible Towel.
"There are 52 guys in there that saved the season," said quarterback Tommy Maddox, who has led Pittsburgh's turnaround from an 0-2 start. "We have a lot of season left, but I can't say enough about the guys in this locker room."
|Amos Zereoue is a super sub with 111 yards rushing.(AP)|
With their fourth consecutive victory, the Steelers (5-3) took command of the weak AFC North -- they're 4-0 inside the division -- and hit the halfway point looking better than they have all season.
Todd Peterson kicked field goals of 43, 28 and 42 yards for the Steelers, whose 0-2 start is becoming more of a blur with each passing week.
This time, the Steelers were down 14-3 in the early in the second quarter before storming back.
"You can grow from slow starts and having to overcome that," Pittsburgh coach Bill Cowher said. "This team grew today."
Dennis Northcutt had an 87-yard TD punt return for the Browns (4-5), who came in hoping to avenge an overtime loss at Pittsburgh earlier this season. Cleveland also wanted to establish itself as a playoff contender by beating its biggest rival.
The Steelers had other plans.
"We obviously didn't make the statement we wanted to make," Browns quarterback Tim Couch said.
Pittsburgh's defense swarmed Couch all afternoon and limited Cleveland to just 193 yards -- 36 rushing -- and just nine first downs.
And when the Steelers had the ball, they kept it. Pittsburgh's time of possession was 42:18 to Cleveland's 17:50, and the Steelers ran 85 plays to the Browns' 42. Cleveland was also done in by 11 penalties.
"We showed a lot of character," said wide receiver Hines Ward, who had nine catches for 79 yards and a TD. "We've done that all year."
Maddox, now 4-1 since replacing Kordell Stewart as the starting quarterback, threw TD passes in the second quarter to Ward and Mark Bruener to rally the Steelers.
Maddox, the former insurance salesman and XFL star, finished 23-of-42 for 239 yards, and probably won over a few more detractors with his latest victory.
"People have been telling him what he couldn't do, and what he wouldn't be," said Plaxico Burress. "He's proving them all wrong."
Zereoue, making his second start filling in for the injured Jerome Bettis, had the best game of his four-year career. The 5-foot-8, 207-pound made holes when there weren't any, broke tackles and helped the Steelers kill time in the fourth quarter.
"He did a solid job for us today," Cowher said. "Sometimes he doesn't always go where it's designed, but he can make some big plays for us."
Maddox spread the ball to seven receivers and even moved to wide receiver on a play when the Steelers put Antwaan Randle El in the shotgun.
Randle El completed two passes for 26 yards, and Pittsburgh also snapped the ball directly to Ward, who ran for a key first down to set up a field goal by Peterson.
"We gave them a lot of different looks," Randle El said. "I think when I went back there, they didn't know what to do."
Peterson's last kick put the Steelers ahead 23-14 with 11:55 left, and the Browns seemed to be done.
Couch, though, hooked up with Quincy Morgan on a 31-yard TD pass with 4:32 left. Cleveland forced Pittsburgh to punt and had a final chance with 57 seconds left. But they were out of timeouts and pinned against their end zone, and couldn't move the ball.
Unable to get into any kind of rhythm, Couch went 15-for-24 for 181 yards with two TDs and two interceptions.
- Couch cut his right hand on a facemask in the second quarter. X-rays were negative, but he spent an unusually long period of time getting treatment afterward.
- Browns RB Jamel White injured his right shoulder midway through the third quarter and didn't return. Kevin Bentley (hyperextended elbow, broken right hand), Kenard Lang (ankle) and Gerard Warren (foot) were Cleveland's most serious injuries.
- Steelers defensive back Mike Logan (hamstring) was the Steelers' only notable injury.
- In their first home game since Al Lerner's death, the Browns honored their owner with a pregame video presentation. A Marine Corps honor guard performed a 21-gun salute and there was jet flyover for Lerner, who died at 69 of brain cancer.
The Associated Press News Service
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