CLEVELAND — First things first, let's make one thing clear: the Cleveland Browns didn't lose to the Pittsburgh Steelers on Sunday because of the t-shirt Freddie Kitchens wore to the movies with his family on Friday night. You'd be hard-pressed to find somebody actually saying as much.
Nevertheless, when looking back at Kitchens' first -- and perhaps only -- season as the head coach of the Browns, it will be hard to forget about his apparel aberration, as it's the perfect metaphor for what's gone wrong for his team in 2019.
In case you somehow missed it, Kitchens was photographed wearing a "Pittsburgh started it" t-shirt while posing with a fan on Friday night. The shirt, manufactured by GV Art & Design, is an obvious reference to the brawl between the Browns and Pittsburgh Steelers that occurred in the closing seconds of Cleveland's 21-7 win at FirstEnergy Stadium on Nov. 14.
Kitchens' daughters had bought him the t-shirt as a gift for his birthday and encouraged him to wear it. Apparently, an event that resulted in the Browns' best defensive player, Myles Garrett, being suspended for the remainder of the season, is worth commemorating.
In and of itself, the t-shirt was "not a good look" and the Browns confirmed as much when confirming the authenticity of the picture of Kitchens that circulated on social media to ESPN's Jake Trotter. The Browns were deeply embarrassed by the fight that took place between Garrett and Steelers quarterback Mason Rudolph and here was their head coach wearing a t-shirt poking fun at the incident just two weeks later and less than 48 hours prior to their rematch in Pittsburgh.
Imagine Bill Belichick, Mike Tomlin or any one of the NFL's other 31 head coaches doing that.
Of course, all would have been forgiven -- and probably celebrated -- had the Browns beat the Steelers two days later. That, however, didn't happen as an injury-depleted Pittsburgh team overcame an early 10-0 deficit to score 20 straight points and beat the Browns 20-13, dropping Cleveland to 5-7 on the season.
Immediately after the game, multiple Pittsburgh t-shirt shops released parodies of Kitchens' t-shirt, which read "Pittsburgh finished it."
"It," in this case, might as well have been the Browns' playoff hopes.
Down the hallway from where Steelers players were celebrating their victory and telling reporters about the bulletin board material Kitchens provided them, the Browns head coach was holding his postgame press conference and doubling down on his decision to wear the t-shirt.
"The t-shirt didn't have anything to do with this," Kitchens said. "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. I put a jacket it on, I covered it up, I took a picture with a fan. It was as simple as that. The t-shirt didn't cause us to give up 40-yard passes. We were ready to play. That's the only fact I need to be concerned about. We were ready to play."
Kitchens is absolutely right; the t-shirt isn't why the Browns lost on Sunday. The Browns lost on Sunday because they couldn't contain Devlin Hodges -- who was the Steelers fourth-string quarterback at the start of this season -- and because after jumping out to a 10-0 lead, their offense once again sputtered.
All of that after one Browns coach told ESPN's Dianna Russini, "the Steelers think they are Kings of the North? That’s changing today."
You mean to tell me that this Cleveland team didn't back up its bravado? I wonder where they learned that from.
While Kitchens' t-shirt may not have affected a single play on Sunday, the reality remains that the two biggest issues that have plagued the Browns this season have been questionable decision-making from their head coach and a habit of having more bark than bite. Factor in an undeniable lack of discipline and you get a team that also leads the NFL in penalty yardage and that ranks seventh in giveaways.
All of that -- the false bravado, the poor decision-making, the lack of discipline -- was exemplified when Kitchens wore a t-shirt prodding a rival two nights before the biggest game of the season.
And perhaps the most alarming part of all of it is he said he'd do it again.
WATCH | Ben Axelrod discusses the t-shirt controversy with Jay and Betsy Kling during Monday's edition of Lunch Break with Jay Crawford: