TDBH: Bengals’ QB search to stabilize struggling offense ends with Kitna’s play-off experience

Posted Mar 7, 2018

This Day in Bengals History - March 8, 2001

In their effort to rescue the NFL's worst passing game, the Bengals, off just 11 wins in the last three seasons, turn to Jon Kitna’s .570 career winning percentage today when they agree in principle to a four-year deal with Seattle's former play-off quarterback. Bengals franchise quarterback Akili Smith is struggling with injuries and a 3-12 record in his first two seasons, Kitna, who turns 29 early in the season, offers a record of 18-15 after leading the Seahawks to their only play-off appearance in a dozen seasons two years ago. Plus, he knows the offense inside and out since Bengals offensive coordinator Bob Bratkowski was his coordinator during his first four seasons in Seattle. Bratkowski says the Bengals still have faith in Smith and calls it an open competition.

But the Bengals are gasping and Kitna gives them a chance to breathe again. Smith has three TD passes in his last 378 throws. Kitna has 49 TD passes in his 33 starts. Plus, he has no qualms about trying to lead and the Bengals need that as much as anything.  "No. 1, he's got a great amount of poise. He never gets flustered," Bratkowski says. "He's a great leader. If you look at his career stats, they're pretty solid."  The Bengals kicked the tires on plenty of QBs in this first week of free agency, including Elvis Grbac, Gus Frerotte and Brad Johnson. But Kitna, who never wins the confidence of Mike Holmgren despite the wins, and the Bengals are a good match as both look to gain respectability.  And Kitna loves the prospect of playing for head coach Dick LeBeau. "I've been on both sides of the fence," Kitna says during his visit a few days ago. "I've been the guy where the head coach, you're his guy. And I've been the guy where you're not necessarily his guy. You get a chance, but that leash is kind of short … More than anything what I've heard about Coach LeBeau has been the greatest (draw) … Players really respect him and want to play for him. People I respect, they didn't play for him; they just knew him, spoke highly of him. That's the draw. You want a coach that shoots straight, be honest with you, and he seems to be that kind of guy."

In his five seasons in Cincinnati, Kitna ends up playing all kind of valuable roles (starter, leader, backup, mentor) as a major piece of the transition to head coach Marvin Lewis in 2003. Maybe Kitna’s biggest contribution as a Bengal is validating Lewis’ first major decision, which is to play him instead of overall No. 1 draft pick Carson Palmer in order to get the franchise back on track as soon as possible. Kitna pilots the Bengals to the league’s biggest turnaround that season (from 2-14 to 8-8) and wins the NFL’s Comeback Player of the Year.

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