CLEVELAND, Nov. 3 (UPI) -- Five weeks after coming off the bench to spearhead a come-from-behind win over Cleveland, Tommy Maddox threw for 239 yards and two touchdowns Sunday to lead the Steelers to a 23-20 victory and a sweep of the season series with the Browns.
"I can't say enough about the guys on this team," said Maddox, who completed 23 of 42 passes. "We kept our heads up and we're playing real well."
Amos Zereoue started his second straight game for the injured Jerome Bettis and recorded his first career 100-yard game, gaining 111 yards on 29 carries.
"It was a grind, gain 15 yards here, lose two or three there, but it feels good to get 100 yards," said the 5-8, 207-pound Zereoue. "I always felt I could carry the ball more than 20 times. I just went out there and ran the ball like I knew I could."
Despite the close score, Pittsburgh dominated the game, compiling 25 first downs and 391 yards compared with nine first downs and 193 yards for the Browns and controlled the ball for more than 42 minutes.
Todd Peterson kicked three field goals for the Steelers (5-3), who opened a 1 1/2 game lead over Cleveland (4-5) in the AFC North.
"We are 4-0 in our division and with this new (playoff) format, the one thing you can be sure of that you can get in the playoffs by winning your division," Steelers Coach Bill Cowher said.
Pittsburgh started the season with two losses under quarterback Kordell Stewart and trailed the Browns, 13-6 at Pittsburgh on Sept. 29 when Cowher removed Stewart in favor of Maddox in the fourth quarter. Maddox promptly drove them 77 yards in seven plays and hit Plaxico Burress with a 10-yard touchdown to tie the game and the Steelers went on to win in overtime.
Cowher named Maddox as the starter on the heels of that performance and the Steelers have averaged 29 points in his five starts.
This time, the only MVP the XFL ever had rallied the Steelers from a 14-3 deficit, hitting Hines Ward with a 20-yard touchdown pass and tight end Mark Bruener with a one-yard score in the second quarter.
Peterson kicked field goals of 28 and 42 yards in the first 3:49 of the fourth quarter to increase the lead to 23-14.
"We came back from 14-3 and just kept grinding away," Cowher said. "There was never any sense of panic.
"We showed a lot of character, but we've done that all year," said Ward, who had nine receptions for 79 yards.
Tim Couch hit Quincy Morgan with a 31-yard touchdown pass to pull Cleveland (4-5) within 23-20 with 4:32 left.
The Browns regained possession with 57 seconds left, but were pinned near their own end zone and had no timeouts left.
"I am disappointed in the way we let this one get away from us," Browns Coach Butch Davis said.
Couch completed 15 of 24 passes for 181 yards and two touchdowns with two interceptions.
"I have to take my hat off to them. They forced me into bad throws and some bad decisions," said Couch, who was sacked four times. "It was not so much that we were playing bad, they have a good defense. We felt we had a great chance to win this game, but they are a good defensive team and shut us down."
Couch had thrown 122 consecutive passes witout an interception before he was picked off by safety Brent Alexander on his first pass attempt in the third quarter.
Dennis Northcutt returned a punt 87 yards for a touchdown 5:13 into the game to give Cleveland the lead. He fielded the punt while backpedaling to his 13, ran across the field to his right, picked up a handful of blocks and raced down the sideline.
"I did what I always do on punt returns," Northcutt said. "The other 10 guys did a great job setting up the return and when they kicked the ball to the left, everyone came down the right lanes and gave me some great blocks."
Peterson kicked his first field goal, a 43-yarder, with 5:33 left in the first quarter.
Couch connected with Morgan on a 63-yard pass to the Pittsburgh seven before hitting fullback Steve Heiden with a one-yard touchdown, giving the Browns a 14-3 lead with 11:45 left.
But Pittsburgh responded with a seven-play, 70-yard drive as Maddox completed five of five for 42 yards and capped it with the 20-yard touchdown pass to Ward with 8:29 remaining in the half.
After Cleveland went three-and-out, the Steelers marched 75 yards in nine plays to the go-ahead score, highlighted by a trick play. Rookie receiver Antwaan Randle El lined up at quarterback out of the shotgun and Maddox moved to receiver.
Randle El flipped a shuffle pass to Zereoue, who gained 25 yards on the play. Zereoue later broke off a 27-yard run before Maddox hit Bruener in the end zone with 1:56 left in the half.
"Amos is one of those guys that may have a zero yard run, but he will also give you a 18- or 21-yard run somewhere in there," Cowher said.
The Steelers had a chance to get more in the first half, reaching the Cleveland 10. But Maddox had a pass intended for Randle El picked off by Lewis Sanders at the Cleveland one.