Record-Courier staff writer
CLEVELAND _ Too much of 'The Bus.' Too much of the newest incarnation of the Pittsburgh Steelers' "Blitzburgh" defense.
Jerome Bettis rumbled for 163 yards and the Steelers' fierce 3-4 defense dominated the Cleveland Browns, sacking quarterback Tim Couch seven times and holding the Browns' offense to just 88 yards in the final three quarters.
While the Steelers dominated the stats sheet, they still needed overtime to hold off the Browns. One week after missing four field goals in a three-point loss to Baltimore, Kris Brown redeemed himself by booting a 32-yard field goal in overtime to give the Steelers a 15-12 win in front of a record crowd of 73,218 Sunday at Cleveland Browns Stadium.
For the Browns (4-4), who fell two full games behind AFC Central division leading Pittsburgh (6-2), the loss was the second consecutive overtime heartbreaker.
"We are disappointed that we did not win this game," said Browns coach Butch Davis. "Our guys went out and spilled their guts out all over this field. If you can hold a team to 15 points and keep them out of the end zone, then you should have a good chance to win the game."
The Browns' defense surrendered a whopping 428 yards, including 247 on the ground, but stiffened every time the Steelers reached the Red Zone. In six trips inside the Browns' 20-yard line, the Steelers managed just five field goals by Kris Brown.
Browns defensive end Tyrone Rogers came up with the play of the day to keep the Steelers out of the end zone after they had a first-and-goal at the Browns' 2-yard line. Rogers ran down Steelers' quarterback Kordell Stewart as he scrambled to his left, forcing a fumble near the sideline that just crossed the goal line for a touchback.
Kris Brown connected on field goals of 31, 27, 37 and 37 yards in regulation, but the embattled kicker missed a potential game winner from 45 yards with 1:37 remaining in the fourth quarter.
Just before the overtime coin flip, Brown tracked down 'The Bus' on the Pittsburgh sideline.
"Kris told me to give him another chance," said Bettis. "When we won the toss, I went to him and said, 'I'm going to give you the chance to win it.' And he did."
The Browns knew exactly what the Steelers' gameplan would be in overtime _ give the ball to 'The Bus.' They stacked the line, blitzed their safeties and linebackers, but still couldn't stop Bettis, who trampled over Browns' safety Percy Ellsworth on a 27-yard sweep on the first play of overtime. Bettis carried the ball seven times for 48 yards during the game-winning, eight-play drive.
"I wanted the football," said Bettis. "The holes were there, and I just ran through them." Bettis didn't have quite as easy a time running the ball at the outset of the game. Defensive tackle Orpheus Roye hauled down the burly, 255-pound back in the end zone for a safety to give the Browns a 2-0 lead with 8:45 left in the first quarter.
The Browns added to that advantage by following the safety with a perfectly executed six-play, 49-yard drive that ended with a 12-yard touchdown strike from Tim Couch to tight end O.J. Santiago.
Couch and the Browns offense rolled up 99 yards in the first quarter behind a series of quick slants and other short throws. It was all down hill after that.
"It felt like I was going to have a really big day," said Couch, who completed 18-of-32 passes for 160 yards. "It was one of those days where every ball came off the hand good. I was throwing every ball right where I wanted to. Then all of a sudden they made some adjustments and put a stop to it."
The Steelers' adjustment: Take away the short throws and open fire with a relentless series of blitzes.
Steelers defensive coordinator Tim Lewis said he was never afraid of Cleveland's short passing game.
"The Browns' passing game is based on quick slants, and we knew that wasn't going to beat us," said Lewis. "You can keep slants in front of you."
Cornerbacks Chad Scott and Dewayne Washington pinched in to take away the slants, while safeties Brent Alexander and Lee Flowers offered support over the top to discourage any adjustment by Couch to go deep. With an effective coverage in place, the Steelers front-seven opened fired on Couch. Led by linebacker Jason Gildon (3 sacks), the Steelers sacked Couch seven times in the game's final 30 minutes.
"There was just too much pressure on Tim," said Davis. "Way too much. We have got to do a better job of protecting the quarterback and giving Tim opportunities."
Couch gave the Browns an opportunity for a last-minute win at the end of regulation. After a 10-yard pass to Jammi German to convert a third down, Couch scrambled for an 11-yard gain to give the Browns a first down at the Steelers' 41-yard line with 50 seconds left.
"At that point, I thought we were going to win the game," said Couch. "All we needed was one more big completion to get into field goal range."
Couch's offensive line didn't give him a chance to get that completion. Right guard Jeremy McKinney and right tackle Roger Chanoine were beaten on consecutive plays as Steelers defensive tackle Casey Hampton and Gildon each sacked Couch on back-to-back.
"Couch got outside one time (on the 11-yard scramble), and it looked like they were going to go for the game-winning field goal," said Steelers coach Bill Cowher. "But we were able to come up with a couple of big sacks. Give the defense credit. It seemed like the guys were all over the place. It was a gutsy effort."