Kitna shows spark

10-6-02, 9:45 p.m.

BY GEOFF HOBSON

INDIANAPOLIS _ It wasn't a very good stat line for a NFL quarterback.

A total of 244 passing yards on 43 attempts, which works out to a meager 5.7 yards per attempt. One touchdown pass. Three interceptions. And a season's passer rating of 57.6.

It was more like a flat line compared to Peyton Manning's line, but what Jon Kitna did for the Bengals' pass offense Sunday in a 28-21 loss to the Colts here in the RCA Dome was incalculable.

It also wasn't enough as the Bengals lost their 38th straight game on the road to a team with a winning record.

But but it was a lifeline because Kitna did what Bengals head coach Dick LeBeau wanted him to do when he made him his third starting quarterback in three weeks.

"He stabilized us," said right tackle Willie Anderson. "It's like I told you guys about looking into his eyes in the huddle. He's confident, he can relate things to you. He knows what's going on. That's a plus."

"Kitna knows the offense," said wide receiver Peter Warrick after scoring his first touchdown in 17 games. "The quarterback is supposed to be the leader."

After four games in which the offense had produced just one touchdown and three sub 200-yard passing days, Kitna put the Bengals back into the land of the living with

21 points. The team that came into the game on pace to score 92 points (48 points fewer than the NFL's 16-game record of 140), is now on pace for 141.

After his first start of the season, Kitna didn't want to talk numbers. Which may be just as well since he has now thrown 26 interceptions and 13 touchdowns in 18 games with the Bengals.

But. . .

"He gave us a lift," said running back Corey Dillon.

"You guys have been around here a lot longer than I have," Kitna said. "But I'm hoping I bring a different than what you guys have seen in the past.

"I felt like I bring (attitude) to this team," Kitna said. "I don't care what the score is, I feel like we can win. I don't care what happened last year. I don't care what happened an hour ago. I just care about what's going on right now."

What's going on right now is that the Bengals are kicking themselves about the chances they had to pull off one of the biggest and most important comebacks in their history. Even though wide receiver Chad Johnson had a career day of six catches for 72 yards, it's the elusive seventh catch that had him crestfallen.

With 23 seconds left and the Bengals on the Colts 35, Kitna hit Johnson with a pass at the 20 that bounced off his hands. Johnson said he ran with the ball before he had it.

"I wasn't trying to get out of bounds," Johnson said. "I was trying to get it upfield. Score a touchdown."

Kitna tried to console him after. You need to go through a day like this to be a great player.

"I have more confidence in him," Kitna said, "than I have ever had after any game."

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