Bengals stick with Kitna. . .for now

12-2-01, 6:15 p.m.

BY GEOFF HOBSON

Bengals quarterback Jon Kitna continues to rack up solid numbers, but the victories and ringing endorsements aren't following suit.

Bengals head coach Dick LeBeau wouldn't anoint Kitna the starter for the rest of the season when given the chance at Monday's news conference ( ""I foresee him starting this week, for sure.") and club president Mike Brown said he isn't going to predict the future.

"Jon has played well and he's not the reason we're losing," said Brown, who earlier in the year had floated the idea of trying other quarterbacks late in a mop-up season. "But I'm not going to get into what may happen. This is a week-by-week business."

The Bengals owe Kitna $1.65 million next year if he plays in 80 percent of the team's snaps and it could come down to if they choose to round off or not. If he doesn't miss a snap and the Bengals keep averaging 64.9 plays for the final four games, he would be at 79.58 percent of the plays.

Brown has said LeBeau has the call on the quarterback and Kitna has backed off his earlier statements in which he indicated he felt the organization was more concerned about the bottom line.

But Kitna continued his role Monday as locker room spokesman after Sunday's 27-23 loss to the Ravens, and clarified that running back Corey Dillon wasn't at fault on rookie free safety Chad Williams' interception that turned into a 98-yard touchdown

return with 19 seconds left in the half.

"Corey did nothing wrong," Kitna said. "It was one of those plays where he had an option to go in or out. I was trying to anticipate body movements. I thought he was going to turn it out and I was trying to be on time because I knew it was going to be a tight throw and you can't be late.

"It's nobody's fault," Kitna said. "It's just one of those things that happens to us. In this league, if you wait for a guy to get open, it's too late. Especially in the red zone. . .It ended up being the wrong read on my part."

The red zone has not been a good place for the Bengals late in games. In the last three weeks, they have turned the ball over on downs when they needed a touchdown to tie or win the game in the last moments.

But Kitna argues the club's touchdown percentage of 52 percent inside the foes' 20-yard line in his eight starts puts them in decent company. If that was for the entire season, it would put them in the NFL's top 20, ahead of two 6-6 teams from their own division in Baltimore and Cleveland.

Yet, the end zone has been the dead zone from the red zone in crunch time and Kina has a pretty good theory why.

"The red-zone conversion is going to go down when (the defense) knows you need a touchdown," Kitna said. "When a field goal can damage them, it goes up. When they know you need a touchdown, they drop eight guys. They've got guys standing all over the place. That makes it tough. The answer is we need to make better plays throughout the game to keep ourselves in control of the game."

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