Numbers say Pro Bowl for Kitna

11-27-03, 6:30 a.m.

BY GEOFF HOBSON

Jon Kitna is doing things this season that have got Bengal quarterbacks to the Pro Bowl. But even though teammates like cornerback Artrell Hawkins are saying, "Jon Kitna is probably the symbol of the team and is playing like a Pro Bowler," he doesn't think about it very much.

And when he does think about Hawaii, it's only when his kids bring it up.

"They tell me they'd love to go," Kitna says. "But in the AFC? I don't think so."

His kids are a reason Kitna wouldn't mind staying in Cincinnati despite the presence of No. 1 pick Carson Palmer. With Kitna scheduled to make about $4.5 million under next year's salary cap, the Bengals are going to have to decide if they can afford two quarterbacks at a huge price. Kitna would like to give his family stability and they do like Cincinnati. But beyond that, he won't allow himself to think about next year, either.

He cringed Wednesday when it was mentioned he has received some play as a MVP candidate. Yet he did allow a little, tiny shot at his critics when he suggested no one in the media room thought he would be the starting quarterback heading into the 12th game of the season.

About all he has said on the subject of Palmer and the quarterback situation is what he said a few weeks ago: "The God that I serve has a sense of humor."

But his numbers are no laughing matter:

Kitna is on pace to throw 28 touchdown passes, the magic number. When Boomer Esiason won the

NFL MVP in 1988 and led the AFC in passing in 1989, he threw 28 touchdown passes. Ken Anderson set the club record with 29 in leading the Bengals to the 1981 AFC title. Those were all Pro Bowl seasons.

Kitna is on pace to throw 28 TDs and 13 interceptions, the best ratio since Esiason's 28-11 in 1989. He's on pace for a club-record 329 completions, breaking Blake's 326 in 1995. He's also on pace to throw for a career-high 3,694 yards, fourth best in Bengals' history. The three best, Esiason at 3,959 in 1986, Blake at 3,822 in 1995, and Anderson at 3,754 in 1981, went to the Pro Bowl.

"Really," Kitna said, "the only stat I look at is completion percentage. To me, that tells you how effective a quarterback truly is for his team."

, Which is 61.4 percent, slightly under his 62.2 percent of last season and sixth in the AFC.

Both Kitna and offensive coordinator Bob Bratkowski chalk up the numbers in part to the people around him.

"It's the best team I've ever been on," Kitna said. "When it comes to different guys stepping up at different times, these guys have been great all season."

Pittsburgh coach Bill Cowher has noticed. Although, he also did back on Dec. 30, 2001, when Kitna threw career-highs of 411 yards, 35 completions, and 68 attempts in a game the Bengals won, 26-23, in overtime at Paul Brown Stadium

"He's always played very well against us," Cowher said. "He's playing extremely well. He's making good decisions. He's running the offense. There's no question his veteran experience allows them at times to go no huddle. I wouldn't be surprised to see it again this Sunday. He's got a couple of weapons around him, and he's doing a great job spreading the ball around. The running game is going, their line is playing well, and he's orchestrating that offense very well."

And, really, that's all Kitna wants to do. Forget NFL MVP.

"Don't even mention that to me, please. I just want to be the MVP for this football team," Kitna said. "I think that when your quarterback is the MVP for your team ... I'm just saying that your quarterback has to play well for your team to be good. If the quarterback is playing well, and he is taking care of his business, and he's being smart with the football, and he's doing the things that he needs to do, then you can have some mistakes in other areas and still be OK."

**

KELLY READY?:** One of Kitna's favorites, tight end Reggie Kelly, practiced for the first time Wednesday since breaking one of his metatarsals in his foot. He's down as questionable to play for the first time since the Oct. 26 injury against Seattle.

**

STUNTS AND SCREENS:** Bengals rookie receiver Kelley Washington is coming off his break-out game against San Diego (five catches, 61 yards and a TD), but he's already being mentioned in the same breath with perennial Pro Bowlers. At least when it comes to dancing.

Washington's post-touchdown dance that he has dubbed "The Squirrel," has received mixed reviews locally, but "The Best Damn Sports Show," can't get enough. Before next week's Baltimore game, Washington plans to fly to the show to again put the dance on display. But this time Ravens middle linebacker Ray Lewis is going to be on with a sound bite from Baltimore with his pre-game moves in what is developing into a high-tech dance contest.

"Some of it is a little bit similar, so that should be kind of fun," Washington said. "That's just the way I am. I think I'm an exciting player and I like to have fun."

Washington's game on Sunday was no accident.

"It's really the first time Kit has looked for me on third down or at the end of the half and I think that comes from what people are seeing in practice," Washington said. "They had some plays designed for me, like a screen, and some routes on the goal line. We knew their secondary was young and we worked on it in practice with drag routes over the middle and fade routes in the end zone and red zone, and we went out there and executed what we did in practice."

Kitna has Washington figured out.

"Confidence with Kelley Washington was never a problem. Kelley is a very confident person," Kitna said. "The thing with him is that he had to be patient so that we could work him into the offense. He wasn't getting a lot of balls, and in some games he wasn't getting any balls. He is probably one of the hardest workers on that football team for us offensively, in the passing game, and in blocking people, and being where you're supposed to be." . .

Even though the Bengals haven't been through a playoff run in years, that doesn't mean many of their players haven't. Head coach Marvin Lewis deployed public relations intern Phil Westhoff on a fact-finding mission that revealed the Bengals have 13 players on their roster who have been to the playoffs and been on teams that have won five straight games.

Now make it 14. That's one of the reasons the club added former Titans linebacker Frank Chamberlin as a free-agent Tuesday. They see him as a solid special-teamer who knows what it's like to play for a contender. . .

Bengals linebackers coach Ricky Hunley apparently has Bengals President Mike Brown and head coach Marvin Lewis pitching his candidacy to the powers that be at Arizona, but he's not talking. Hunley interviewed for the head coaching job at his alma mater after the Bengals' victory in San Diego Sunday. . .

Rookie cornerback Dennis Weathersby had no comment after a conviction in the case stemming from his Easter Day shooting. . .

There'll some fallout Thursday. Several rookies got bagged again Wednesday when they got taken on the annual turkey joke. There was no turkey available at the store of choice. It turns out head coach Marvin Lewis gave them a bogus certificate. . .

**

BURRIS UPBEAT:** Bengals cornerback Jeff Burris won't play in his third straight game this week, but he said Wednesday he doesn't believe his concussion is going to cut short his career. Burris appeared pretty confident he'll be able to go next week in Baltimore, a full five weeks after suffering his second concussion of the season in Arizona.

"The idea is to rest it so it doesn't get into the danger zone," said Burris, who has suffered five in the past three seasons. "It's not in the danger zone and we're just trying to keep it that way. You have to be patient. Rest now is the best thing in the short run and long run. You have to be smart about it. You have to understand that the body has a plan and the Lord has a plan for you."

At the moment, the plan seems to include football for the 31-year-old Burris. He is excited about getting back into a playoff run again after going through several with the Bills and Colts.

He's been so active on the sidelines that head coach Marvin Lewis is calling him, "Coach Burris."

"It's been tough to watch these guys having fun and doing well and you have to sit and watch," Burris said. "But I'm trying to help them during the games in every aspect."

Burris and Reggie Kelly are two examples of Lewis' philosophy on road trips. Neither had a shot of playing against San Diego, but he wanted their presence in the meetings and on the sidelines.

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