Kitna needs wins to keep job

10-28-02, 8 p.m.

BY GEOFF HOBSON

It turns out Jordan Kitna's favorite Bengal is running back Corey Dillon. But when Dillon saw Jon Kitna's four-year-old son wearing Marshall Faulk's No. 28 jersey Monday, he vowed to Federal Express to Jordan the Bengals' version of No. 28.

Dillon better get it there quickly.

Despite leading the Bengals to their best offensive display of the season Sunday, Jordan's Dad figures he's a short-timer in Cincinnati. Particularly if the team doesn't win.

"I will not finish the rest of this year if we're not winning, no question," Kitna said of the No. 1 quarterback job. "They've got other things to be concerned with. I don't think that's right because you look at it . .we've moved the ball well in all three (of his starts). This is what I thought we could do coming into this season, but it got delayed four games. Dug ourselves a hole that's pretty insurmountable."

Even during last year's seven-game losing streak that ultimately cost him his job during the offseason, Kitna lobbied for the Bengals to stick with him for continuity sake. After Sunday's two touchdown passes with no interceptions and touchdown drives of 71, 89 and 91 yards, Kitna has clearly been more effective than his replacement, Gus Frerotte, and his would be successor, Akili Smith.

But Kitna, in the second year of a four-year deal, doesn't expect to be here for that fourth season. "You know how this business goes. No

one ever sees the last year of their contract." And Kitna wonders if he'll be here next year: "If we win, I'll be here. If we don't, I'll probably be gone."

Actually, the odd man out appears to be Frerotte. Kitna, however, seems to understand that a few more losses and it is Smith's turn again.

"I'm not thinking about that," said Kitna, when asked how many more losses he has left. "I'm ready to start winning and put something together. My goal is to win nine in a row."

With Sunday's effort, Kitna raised his passer rating a dozen points to 66.9. That is still last in the AFC, five points behind this week's foe, Houston rookie David Carr. But it's better than, yes, the Rams' Kurt Warner, the Lions' Joey Harrington, and the Cardinals' Jake Plummer in the NFC.

The hole of which Kitna speaks isn't a small one. Here's a team that rolled up 384 yards of offense Sunday and is still ranked 29th in NFL total yards per game. Here's a team that scored a season-high 24 points and is still has a league-low 75 points and is on pace to score a franchise-low 171 points.

But he thinks this team has grown tighter as they scramble for cover around the incoming missiles from across the country. They have been ridiculed from ESPN's "Outside The Lines," to Inside the Beltway with the Late Night Jokes.

"When you start losing and no one else is on your side and you got family members coming in and telling jokes about yourself, that's a problem," Kitna said. "The people in this locker room are the only ones that care if we go after it. So we might as well stick together.

"The natural tendency is to go against us," said Kitna of the officials. "Because we're 0-7. They're human. They don't get these refs and bring them in and sequester them when they do our games. These referees watch ESPN. These referees watch "Outside The Lines." These referees read articles when they come into town. It's natural to think if it's a split-second call, it's got to be against the Bengals. I'm not saying it's pre-determined. The expectation is, 'It must not be good for them.' They're only human."

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