Freddie Kitchens and the Cleveland Browns lost a pivotal game to the Pittsburgh Steelers on Sunday, two days after Kitchens was photographed wearing a T-shirt that read “Pittsburgh started it,” an apparent reference to the brawl that occurred at the end of the Browns’ 21-7 victory over their AFC North rivals just 17 days earlier.
After the 20-13 loss that dropped the Browns to 5-7 this season, the coach said he had no regrets about the shirt he wore while viewing the movie “A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood” on his birthday.
“I wore a T-shirt. I wore a jacket with it. My daughters wanted me to wear the shirt. And I’d wear it again,” Kitchens said. “I put a jacket on, I covered it up. I took a picture with a fan. That was as simple as that. T-shirt didn’t cause us to give up 40-yard passes.”
Browns quarterback Baker Mayfield, who completed 18 of 32 passes for 196 yards with one touchdown and one interception, didn’t seem to have an issue with his coach’s wardrobe choice from earlier in the week.
“It’s just a T-shirt,” Mayfield said. “I’ve done much worse.”
But Steelers offensive lineman David DeCastro said he thought Kitchens’ decision to wear the shirt days before a rematch between the two teams “was pretty stupid.”
“That’s a lot of bulletin-board material,” DeCastro said. “I don’t know why you do that as a coach. I just don’t get that. Of course it’s going to motivate us. What are you thinking? It’s just not smart.”
Browns defensive end Myles Garrett was suspended indefinitely by the NFL for using a helmet to strike the uncovered head of Steelers quarterback Mason Rudolph during the final seconds of the Nov. 14 game between the two teams. Garrett apologized but also claimed that Rudolph used a racist slur toward him before the incident.
Rudolph denied the allegation, and the NFL said it found no evidence of such an occurrence.
Steelers left guard Ramon Foster suggested it was irresponsible for Kitchens to wear a shirt that could have provoked further actions in an already heated rivalry.
“Why throw gas? When you do something like that, you throw your players in harm’s way,” Foster said. “He’s not on the field. You throw your players in harm’s way when you do stuff like that with a vengeance. And I hate that for them.”
Rudolph did not play in the rematch. He was benched in favor of rookie quarterback Devlin Hodges after multiple weeks of ineffective play. Also missing from Sunday’s game was Steelers center Maurkice Pouncey, who was serving the final game of his two-game (reduced from three) suspension for punching and kicking Garrett in the helmet during the fight.
Several Steelers wore “Free Pouncey” shirts before the game.