It was victory No. 200 for Chuck Noll. Rod Rust has to wonder if he’s ever going to get No. 2.
Merril Hoge ran for two touchdowns and Pittsburgh’s defense allowed only a field goal after three first-half fumbles and a blocked punt as the Steelers beat the New England Patriots, 24-3, Sunday, creating a three-way tie for the AFC Central Division lead.
Cincinnati (7-6), which beat Pittsburgh twice in the last three weeks, came back to Pittsburgh and Houston by losing to the San Francisco 49ers.
“Maybe you think about the little things and how long you’ve been around,” said Noll, who has coached the Steelers in four decades. “Sure, it’s a good feeling. I’ll think about it (for a day or so) . . . but you have to stay focused.”
Said Rust, the former Steeler defensive coordinator whose Patriots (1-12) have lost 11 consecutive games in his first season: “I’m very happy for Chuck and the Steelers, because there are some great people over there.
“It’s inevitable this (losing streak) is going to end, but when is certainly a big question. I’m not going make any more remarks about it because I’m tired of hearing about it and tired of talking about it.”
It wasn’t very artistic--the Steelers led, 10-3, at halftime after a comedy of errors by both teams--but Noll improved to 200-146-1 in 22 seasons. The only coach to win four Super Bowls, he joins George Halas, Tom Landry, Don Shula and Curly Lambeau as the only NFL coaches to win 200 games.
Noll’s 100th victory also was against New England in 1979.
“We needed this win and I’m really happy for Chuck Noll, because he’s one of the best in the history of the game,” Hoge said. “We needed this one for the division, to get to the playoffs. We needed to start winning today.”
Hoge ran for 117 yards, his first 100-yard game since the playoffs against Denver last season, and Tim Worley gained 83 despite fumbling twice as Pittsburgh outrushed the Patriots, 251-56.
New England has been outrushed, 2,066 to 1,104, and allowed an opposing back to rush for 100 yards for the seventh consecutive game and the 10th in 13 games.
“Cincinnati was vulnerable to the run and we didn’t get it done, so we we didn’t approach this game any differently,” Hoge said. “We knew we could be effective against them and we had to be with (leading receiver) Louis Lipps (bruised back) out of the lineup.”
The Patriots managed only a field goal after Pittsburgh’s numerous first-half mistakes, and failed to convert two third-and-one opportunities, a third and two and a fourth and one.
“Every negative is detrimental, every turnover is devastating, every third and one you miss hurts,” tackle Bruce Armstrong said.
“When you get opportunities and don’t capitalize, it’s human nature to put your head down and say, ‘Here it goes again.’ Nobody here is bagging it. Nobody’s dying and giving it up. It sounds silly to say when you look at the end results, but I believe that.”
New England’s Jason Staurovsky kicked a 49-yard field goal with 2:33 left in the first half.
Bubby Brister completed 10 of 20 passes for 171 yards, and threw a 14-yard touchdown pass to Eric Green in the third quarter.