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Pittsburgh 15, Cleveland 12 (OT)

CLEVELAND, Nov. 11 (UPI) -- Kris Brown kicked his fifth field goal 5:22 into overtime Sunday after missing a potential game-winning effort late in the fourth quarter to keep the Pittsburgh Steelers atop the AFC Central with a 15-12 triumph over the Cleveland Browns.

Jerome Bettis collected 48 of his 163 yards rushing on the opening drive of the extra session. That set up Brown's 32-yard kick that lifted the Steelers record to 6-2, their best season-opening mark since their last AFC Central Division title campaign in 1997.

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Last Sunday, the Steelers squandered an opportunity to build on the division lead as Brown missed four of five field goals in a 13-10 loss to Baltimore. But this time, the third-year kicker out of Nebraska converted his fourth field goal in as many attempts with 11:28 left to knot the contest at 12-12.

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Brown then missed wide left from 45 yards out with 1:40 left and had the Pittsburgh defense to thank for forcing overtime.

"I didn't put the ball through the uprights last week and this has been the longest week of my life," Brown said. "It was very emotional and the important thing is to respond to challenges."

Tim Couch, who had a solid game with 18 completions in 33 attempts for 160 yards with a touchdown, endured seven sacks as the Browns lost their second overtime game in as many weeks. The Chicago Bears rallied for a dramatic 27-21 victory over the Browns last week at Soldier Field.

"This is really frustrating," Couch said. "Early on in the season, we were pulling out these close games and finding a way to win."

Since rejoining the NFL in 1999, the Browns had split the first four meetings with Pittsburgh.

After Pittsburgh won the toss at the start of overtime, Bettis broke through a weary Browns defense and powered 27 yards to the Cleveland 45.

"He pounded us and wore us down late in the game," said Browns linebacker Brant Boyer, who recorded 14 tackles. "Their offensive line does a good job of blocking and letting Bettis run the ball. So far, he is the best back we've seen this year."

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Bettis and quarterback Kordell Stewart combined to run behind the right side of their offensive line for 20 yards in overtime. Bettis then punished the defense with four more carries for 11 yards before Steelers coach Bill Cowher turned to his kicker on third and nine.

"I wanted the kick in the overtime," Brown said. "I told Jerome, 'Get the ball down there and give me another chance.'"

Bettis has amassed 589 yards and three 100-yard performances in his last five outings against the Browns.

Stewart once again displayed his versatility, completing 18 of 32 passes for 188 yards and running for 65 yards on seven carries.

"If we do our best running, we stay with that plan," said Stewart, who led the offense to 428 total net yards. "If passing is working, we stay with our passes. If you have both in your bag of tricks, the future is great."

Linebacker Jason Gildon registered a career-high 3 1/2 sacks to take sole possession of fourth place on the Steelers' career list with 56 1/2. The team's sack leader each of the past three seasons, Gildon only trails L.C. Greenwood (73 1/2), Joe Greene (66) and Keith Willis (59).

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Gildon recorded his first of the game with 5:30 remaining in the third quarter, forcing Couch to take a seven-yard loss. Failing to gain the necessary yardage on third and 15, Cleveland watched its kicker, Phil Dawson, boot a 40-yard field goal as the Browns regained a three-point lead, 12-9.

Pittsburgh looked set to score an offensive touchdown later in the third quarter. Stewart rolled right on third and 10 before throwing back across the field to find Amos Zereoue, who appeared end-zone bound with the aid of a pair of blocks along the left sideline.

But the running back stumbled, allowing cornerback Corey Fuller to catch him at the Cleveland two.

On the next play, Stewart ran around left end and was a step away from crossing the goal line. But with Stewart cradling the ball with his right arm, defensive end Tyrone Rogers batted the ball out of bounds in end zone for a touchback.

"The angle I had, I thought I was in there," Stewart said. "He did a good job knocking the ball out of my hand. It bounced off my chest and out of bounds. I have to be more aggressive next time."

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"I was sick with myself," Zereoue said. "I had my fingers crossed that we would come back and win this thing."

Gildon once again helped thwart the Cleveland offense, which registered 58 total net yards in the second half and had six of its seven second-half possessions conclude with a punt.

A 2000 Pro-Bowler, Gildon also recorded sacks on each of Cleveland's final two possessions.

"We had to show some character to come back," Gildon said of the Steelers' 9-0 deficit just 8:17 into the contest. "We grew up a lot today and it's going to take a tough game like this to get us ready and bring us together as a team."

In a battle of teams possessing two of the three stingiest defenses in the AFC, it is fitting that a safety started the scoring in this contest.

Chris Gardocki's 37-yard punt was downed on the Pittsburgh one by rookie Anthony Henry. After Stewart's incomplete pass to Burress, defensive tackle Orpheus Roye stormed through a gap at left guard to tackle Bettis in the end zone.

Those marked the first two points conceded by the Steelers this season.

On the Browns' subsequent drive, Couch threw a 12-yard touchdown to tight end O.J. Santiago to cap a six-play, 49-yard drive and give Cleveland a 9-0 advantage.

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Santiago's touchdown marked his first since scoring for Atlanta against Miami on Dec. 27, 1998.

"We are disappointed that we did not win this game. Our guys went out today and spilled their guts all over this field," Browns coach Butch Davis said. "We just have to figure out a way to capitalize on the other team's mistakes. We cannot afford to have breakdowns that hurt our chances to score."

Brown helped the Steelers cut the deficit to three points at the half. Despite last Sunday's nightmare, Brown got back on track with efforts from 31 and 27 yards away.

"When I attack the ball, I get my best kicks," Brown said. "When I try to guide the ball, I have my problems. Warming up, I missed only one kick and it was from 47 yards."

Even though the Steelers were trailing after the first-half battle, there were signs that Pittsburgh was winning the war in the trenches.

Bettis continued to carry the Steelers' offense. Entering Sunday as the AFC's third leading rusher, Bettis picked up 69 of the Steelers' 101 first-half rushing yards on 13 carries and appeared unlikely to be stopped by the Browns, who ranked 18th against the run.

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Meanwhile, Cleveland managed to scrape just 40 yards on the ground, holding possession for just 12:48 of the opening 30 minutes.

"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," Davis said. "Our defense has been awfully consistent this year. This team doesn't play for moral victories. The effort is good enough to win, but sometimes the execution isn't there."

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