On the surface, Cleveland Browns coach Freddie Kitchens wearing a funny T-shirt wasn’t the worst sin.
Last week, Kitchens was out to a movie and took a picture with a fan. He was wearing a “Pittsburgh Started It” shirt, alluding to the Mason Rudolph-Myles Garrett fight that led to Garrett’s suspension for the rest of the season. In the NBA, they wouldn’t even bother to comment on the Instagram post. In the dull NFL, it was an instant controversy.
The problem isn’t the shirt, though it probably wasn’t his best move. It’s that it’s symbolic of everything that has gone wrong in Cleveland under Kitchens. It didn’t get better with a 20-13 loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers that the Browns probably needed to keep their playoff dreams alive. They’re 5-7 now.
Let’s start with Kitchens reaction when he was asked about the 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 daughter told me to wear the shirt, and I’d wear it again.”
You’d spend a while unpacking all that’s regrettable about that statement (what does wearing a jacket have to do with anything?), but what really stands out is “I’d wear it again.” There’s something to be said about standing up for what you believe in, but there’s a fine line between that and a lack of accountability. Is it a huge surprise that the same coach who doubles down on wearing that T-shirt (and low-key blames his daughter for it) is guiding a Browns team that leads the league in penalties?
“I thought it was pretty stupid,” Steelers guard David DeCastro told reporters. “That's bulletin-board material. I don't know why you'd do that, as a coach. I just don't get that. Of course it's going to motivate us. What are you thinking?"
Good question. Again, the problem probably isn’t the shirt itself. It’s that in a season that has gone very wrong, Kitchens lacks awareness. There are times to be defiant, but this wasn’t one. Even wearing a shirt that “Pittsburgh Started It” sends a ridiculous message. Rudolph wasn’t an innocent bystander in the fight, but nothing he did excuses Garrett’s actions.
Again, it’s not just the shirt. It’s sending the message that Garrett getting himself suspended for the rest of the season wasn’t the problem, but the real problem was that “Pittsburgh Started It.” There’s a lot of talk in the NFL about culture, and Kitchens has made it too easy for his team to make excuses. Part of the reason the Browns are one of the NFL’s biggest disappointments is they keep making dumb mistakes that cost them wins. There’s no accountability. That starts with the coach, and Cleveland’s coach is wearing a T-shirt that in effect shifts the blame from the player who cost his team dearly by getting himself suspended. And then the coach won’t take the blame for his own mistake. It all fits together.
Whether Kitchens will be back for another season remains to be seen. There’s no great reason to bring him back after Baker Mayfield regressed and the team as a whole has underachieved. But teams don’t like firing coaches after just one season, so we’ll see.
If Kitchens does go, maybe it would be a surprise to him. He doesn’t seem aware that anything is wrong. You can’t put a jacket over all the Browns’ failures this season and pretend that means they didn’t exist.
Here’s a look at the coaches, players, executives or anyone else feeling the heat on Monday, after Week 13 of the NFL season:
HOT: That wasn’t good for Ron Rivera
If Carolina Panthers owner David Tepper was considering replacing Rivera as head coach, Sunday’s loss won’t do Rivera any favors.
Most of Carolina’s losses have been understandable. Losing 29-21 at home to a bad Washington Redskins team was not. Washington rushed for 248 yards with a staggering 8.3-yard average. Carolina’s defense has too much talent for that to happen.
“I’m not worried about my future, I’m worried about the future of this football team and we have a game coming up on Sunday,” Rivera said after the game, via The Athletic’s Jourdan Rodrigue.
Rivera has been a good coach for Carolina, but the Panthers are now 5-7 and likely going to post their third losing season in four years. Rivera might need a good finish to the season, if it’s not too late.
HOTTER: Pat Shurmur’s 7-21 record as Giants coach is hard on the eyes
The New York Giants have lost eight in a row and on Sunday they played in front of a stadium that had many empty seats and Green Bay Packers fans. Rookie quarterback Daniel Jones threw three interceptions in a 31-13 loss to the Packers.
It becomes a fine line for the Giants. They put Shurmur in a bad spot, and this season he has a rookie quarterback. But a 7-21 record over two years would put anyone on the hot seat.
“This is a historically young team that’s going out there and competing against some really good football teams, and we’ve got to do what we have to do to win games, and I understand that,” Shurmur said, via the New York Post. “But they also are developing.
“At some point, we’ll be good enough to win.”
While Jones is the focal point, the defense is what is most troubling. The Giants are bad on defense and top cornerback Janoris Jenkins voiced his frustration after Packers receiver Davante Adams caught two touchdowns. Jenkins wondered why he isn’t allowed to travel with the other team’s top receiver and cover him through the game, which puts more heat on defensive coordinator James Bettcher.
“I’m the only one in the league that don’t travel no more,” Jenkins said, via the New York Post. “I don’t understand why. I was traveling other years.
“I play on the left side of the field all game. I get two passes a game. C’mon bro. Everybody in the league who has a top corner, they travel. Rabbit don’t travel no more.”
One likely outcome after the season is the Giants make some changes on the staff, especially on the defensive side, and Shurmur is given a third season. But that third season better include some signs of improvement.
HOTTEST: What do we make of Doug Pederson now?
Since the Philadelphia Eagles won Super Bowl LII, they’re 14-14. They needed a miraculous rally to make the playoffs last season. They’re 5-7 this season and the only reason they’re not out of the playoff conversation is they play in the worst division in the NFL.
After the Eagles entirely failed against a Miami Dolphins team that was 2-9 coming in, is it worth asking if Pederson was a one-year wonder?
Pederson did a masterful job two seasons ago. Nobody would argue that. He took backup quarterback Nick Foles (who is not exactly becoming a legend in Jacksonville) and went on a run that makes him immortal in Philadelphia. Pederson out-coached Bill Belichick in a Super Bowl. That is all on his resume forever.
But why are the Eagles so bad? The roster has been very good the past two seasons. There’s no Super Bowl hangover to blame anymore. The Eagles have had injuries, but in Week 13 they were as healthy as any other NFL team this time of year, and still were awful against the Dolphins.
In every loss it seems like there is a new issue for the Eagles. It’s drops by receivers or the cornerbacks getting torched or Carson Wentz missing open receivers or penalties at inopportune times. There’s no single deficiency holding the Eagles back. It’s a little bit of everything. Doesn’t that seem to reflect on the coach?
Pederson was undeniably fantastic two seasons ago. His Eagles have clearly underachieved for two seasons since then. So what can we expect from Pederson going forward?
THE HOTTEST ELEMENT IN THE WORLD, AKA ‘THE JASON GARRETT’: Cowboys need a long playoff run
The funny thing about everyone firing Garrett already is that he’s going to be coaching a playoff game at home after winning a division title.
Let’s just give up on the Eagles. They’re not very good, and the loss to the Miami Dolphins drives that point home. The NFL would be better off letting a good team into the playoffs rather than the NFC East champion, but that won’t happen. So prepare for a Saturday night on wild-card weekend with the Cowboys.
And the fun part is ... what happens if the Cowboys make a good but not great run? Let’s say Dallas — which has the top-end talent to beat anyone — goes all the way to the NFC championship game and loses a last-second thriller to the New Orleans Saints, for example. Would that be enough to keep Garrett’s job? Does he have to go to a Super Bowl?
That’s the interesting part. The Cowboys are likely going to the playoffs and it’s not like a postseason run is that hard to believe. And wouldn’t it be fun to watch Cowboys fans who are desperate to dump Garrett struggle with the notion that every playoff win gets them closer to a Super Bowl, yet also increases the chances of Jerry Jones giving Garrett one more shot?
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