PITTSBURGH, DEC. 9 -- Chuck Noll now has victory No. 200 -- though a week later than he would have liked -- but Rod Rust must be wondering if he's ever going to get victory No. 2.

Merril Hoge ran for 117 yards and two touchdowns and Pittsburgh's defense allowed only a field goal in the face of three first-half fumbles and a blocked punt today as the Steelers beat the New England Patriots, 24-3, creating a three-way deadlock for the AFC Central Division lead.

Cincinnati, which beat the Steelers last week, dropped into a tie for first with Pittsburgh and Houston by losing to San Francisco while the Oilers beat Cleveland.

It wasn't very artistic -- the Steelers led by only 10-3 at halftime after a comedy of bobbling and bumbling and fumbling 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 characteristically played down talk of achieving any personal milestone, but said moving into such elite company "makes you stop and think a little bit.

"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 today and {Monday} . . . but you have to stay focused."

Noll's 100th victory also was against New England, in 1979.

"I'm very happy for Chuck and the Steelers, because there are some great people over there," said Rust, first-year coach of the Patriots, now 1-12 with an 11-game losing streak. He was Pittsburgh's defensive coordinator last season.