Freddie Kitchens is in his first season as the head coach of the Cleveland Browns, a year after serving for half the season as the interim offensive coordinator. But he’s already done something a number of his predecessors failed to do, and that is to win a game against the Pittsburgh Steelers.
On Sunday, he will try to do something that the Browns have only done once before in their history: win at Heinz Field. Literally, it has happened only once before. Cleveland has only won five games against the Steelers since the birth of the AFC North in 2002, with one tie. All of those have been in their own home.
The last time they have recorded anything but a loss in Pittsburgh was in 2003, and before that, they last won in 1999, their first year back in the NFL. Before the Steelers moved into Heinz Field. Butch Davis was their head coach back then, and they finished second in the division, moving on to the playoffs, but losing to the Steelers in the Wildcard round…in Pittsburgh. It was close, though. 36-33.
Kitchens at least has that win under his belt. And he has a shot at bringing the Browns to a 6-6 record. The last time they had a record that wasn’t sub-.500 this far into the season was in 2014, when they were actually 7-5 before dropping their final four games.
He understands that in order for the Browns to be competitive, they have to be competitive with the Steelers, and while talking to reporters this week, he didn’t make any qualms about the reality that Cleveland has been the younger brother in this rivalry.
“To me, it takes two to have a rivalry, so we’ve got to do our part”, Kitchens was quoted as saying by Will Graves of the Associated Press. “That’s probably not going to sit well with some people. But, to me, you’ve got to win your share to make it a rivalry”.
Actually, it’s probably the same thing that every Browns head coach has said during their first season—and even season subsequent—for the past two decades or so. But when you go an entire decade without posting a non-losing season, you’re inevitably going to build some impressively bad records against some opponents.
Despite having that win over Pittsburgh, Kitchens isn’t feeling very accomplished about is. “I don’t think I’ve done anything. I don’t think our team has done anything”. he said. “Our team needs to be focused on this week, and I think that’s what they feel. We haven’t done anything. What have we done? We haven’t done anything”.
They haven’t done anything, really. Their most notable achievement is to have beaten the Baltimore Ravens months ago before they went on a long run. And let’s be honest, even if they beat the Steelers on Sunday, it will be against Devlin Hodges, who wasn’t even on a roster to start the season, not Ben Roethlisberger.