PITTSBURGH — Cleveland Browns coach Freddie Kitchens downplayed his “Pittsburgh started it” T-shirt in the aftermath of his team’s 20-13 loss Sunday, but Steelers players blasted the coach for putting his team in a bad position.
“I know that our coach never would have done anything like that,” left guard Ramon Foster said. “Why throw gas? When you do something like that, you throw your players in harm’s way. 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.”
Foster added: “You just don’t see that from upper management. We all got to grow as professionals in some sense. I’m glad Coach T [Mike Tomlin] doesn’t do anything like that.”
The two coaches have traded their share of barbs in the rivalry. During an ESPN interview over the summer, Tomlin made a yawning motion when asked about facing Odell Beckham Jr. twice per season after the wide receiver was traded to the Browns from the Giants.
Kitchens, whose birthday was Friday, was photographed wearing a “Pittsburgh started it” shirt to see the Mr. Rogers biopic “A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood” on Friday night.
The shirt referenced the brawl between the teams two weeks ago, when Browns defensive end Myles Garrett hit Steelers quarterback Mason Rudolph in the head with a helmet, setting off a melee and earning himself an indefinite suspension.
“I wore a T-shirt,” Kitchens said after the game. “I wore a jacket with it. My daughters wanted me to wear the shirt. I’d wear it again. I put on a jacket, I covered it up, I took a picture, that was simple as that. A T-shirt didn’t cause us to give up 40-yard passes. We were ready to play. That’s the only thing people need to be concerned about. We were ready to play.”
Baker Mayfield, who frequently sent messages through his shirt choices during his college career at Oklahoma, didn’t comment on Kitchens’ shirt in his postgame news conference.
“I don’t really have a comment on that,” Mayfield said. “It’s just a T-shirt. I’ve done much worse.”
By wearing the shirt in public, Kitchens seemingly escalated tensions between the two teams after it appeared that emotions were cooling in the week leading up to the rematch.
“I thought it was pretty stupid,” Steelers offensive lineman David DeCastro said. “That’s a lot of bulletin-board material. 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.”