Washington (AFP) - Never mind who started it, the Pittsburgh Steelers finished it on Sunday, avenging a brawl-marred NFL loss to the Cleveland Browns with a 20-13 triumph at Heinz Field.
The game in Pittsburgh was in the spotlight as the teams clashed just 18 days after a melee erupted in the closing moments of the Browns' 21-7 victory at Cleveland.
Browns defensive end Myles Garrett has been indefinitely suspended for his helmet swinging attack on Steelers quarterback Mason Rudolph -- who was fined $50,000 for his role even though the NFL said it found no evidence to support Garrett's claim that Rudolph used a racial slur.
More than 30 players were punished and more than $700,000 in fines meted out over the incident.
Several Steelers players arrived for Sunday's game wearing shirts reading "Free Pouncey" a reference to the two-game suspension that center Maurkice Pouncey received for punching and trying to kick Garrett after Garrett hit Rudolph.
Pittsburgh cornerback Cam Sutton wore a sweatshirt featuring a smiling cartoon figure in a Steelers helmet urinating on a figure wearing Browns apparel.
That was just the latest wardrobe statement on the affair.
On Friday, Browns head coach Freddie Kitchens was spotted attending a movie wearing a T-shirt reading "Pittsburgh started it," his photo with a fan going viral on social media.
Kitchens said he wore the shirt at the behest of his daughters, and added that any attention it received had nothing to do with Sunday's defeat.
"A T-shirt didn't cause us to give up 40-yard passes and we were ready to play," he said. "That's the only thing people need to be concerned about. We were ready to play."
Steelers offensive lineman David DeCastro said he thought it was "pretty stupid" of Kitchens to make a gesture that was sure to fire up the Steelers before the game.
"I don't know why you do that as a coach," he said. "I just don't get that. Of course it's going to motivate us. What are you thinking? It's just not smart."
Certainly the Steelers had the last laugh, rallying from a 10-0 deficit behind undrafted rookie quarterback Devlin "Duck" Hodges to improve to 7-5.
The Steelers, whose prospects looked dim when veteran quarterback Ben Roethlisberger suffered a season-ending injury in week two, gave their playoff hopes a massive boost.
"It's been a weird year," DeCastro said.
Hodges, for one, is embracing the unexpected after finding himself in the starting role in the wake of Roethlisberger's injury and the summary benching of struggling Rudolph.
"I've always believed in myself," said Hodges,who completed 14 of 21 passes for 212 yards and a touchdown with one interception. "I know I have people in my corner who believed in me.
"Even the guys on the team, when I was let go (after training camp), I had a bunch of them text me and say, 'Hey, this isn't over for you.'"