PITTSBURGH — The rematch scheduled for Sunday afternoon between the Pittsburgh Steelers and Cleveland Browns was hyped as a potential bloodbath.
The historic rivals, separated by just a few hours’ drive, for the first time in a long time entered separated by just a game in the standings as the Browns needed a win to catch the Steelers in the AFC Wild Card standings.
But most of the hype was on the aftermath of the Browns’ win over the Steelers on Nov. 14, when Cleveland defensive end Myles Garrett attacked Steelers quarterback Mason Rudolph with eight seconds left in the game, ripping his helmet off and beating him with it and inciting a brawl between the teams that ended with three suspensions and over a half million dollars in fines.
Then, Cleveland head coach Freddie Kitchens threw a match onto the tinderbox by wearing a “Pittsburgh started it” t-shirt on Friday.
But despite all of that, the rematch didn’t exactly live up to the hype. The Steelers and Browns played one of the cleaner games of the season, with the only personal foul penalty being an unnecessary roughness on 183-pound wide receiver Diontae Johnson for hanging on to a block too long and Bud Dupree roughing the passer on the second-to-last Browns offensive play.
Dupree said some of the Steelers were skeptical that Kitchens actually wore the shirt, and thought the photo of him in it circulating on social media may have been a fake, but the Browns coach confirmed that it was him on Sunday.
“Did he wear it for real? Oh man. Any time something like that happens, we just try to make sure it wasn’t photoshopped,” Dupree said. “It’s funny. If he wants to be that way next time, we’ll make Butts wear one.”
Kitchens didn’t think it made a difference in the game.
“My daughters wanted me to wear the shirt and I’d wear it again,” Kitchen said. “I put a jacket on. I covered it up. I took a picture with a fan. That was as simple as that. The t-shirt didn’t cause us to give up 40-yard passes.”
The Steelers, who wore their own shirts in support of suspended teammate Maurkice Pouncey, who sat out his second and final game for punching and kicking Garrett after he attacked Rudolph, thought Kitchens wearing the shirt came off as low-class and used that as motivation. Guard David DeCastro said it was “bulletin board material.”
“I don’t want to escalate this thing as far as Cincy 2, but when you have people wearing certain shirts, they know they have it on,” veteran guard Ramon Foster said. “Come on, man. Be professional. … The game of football is played on the field. You say and do a lot of things off the field, you better be able to back them up.”
Outside of supporting Pouncey, who the team presented with a game ball after the win, the Steelers made it a point not to say too much about what transpired in the first game. Garrett, Pouncey and Rudolph all not playing in the rematch certainly had an effect on it being a calmer battle, but the Steelers also wanted it that way.
“We weren’t concerned about it, to be quite honest with you,” head coach Mike Tomlin said. “We were about beating him today. That’s how you deal with some of that stuff. You beat them.”