Former Cincinnati Bengals quarterback Jon Kitna announced yesterday that he is retiring from the NFL after 14 seasons. Kitna finished his career on the injured reserve this season with the Dallas Cowboys.
Kitna was undrafted coming out of Central Washington. The Seattle Seahawks signed him as a free agent after he had been named the MVP of the world league, taking the Barcelona Dragons to the championship. There Kitna served as a backup to Hall of Famer Warren Moon at the end of his career. Kitna earned the starting job in 1999 after Moon retired. He guided the Seahawks to an AFC Western Division title that year and a playoff berth. The Seahawks made a coaching change, however, bringing in Mike Holmgren as both coach and general manager. Holmgren would eventually bring Matt Hasselbeck, a quarterback he had drafted in Green Bay over to be the starter.
Kitna had worked under Bob Bratkowski while in Seattle, so when Bratkowski became Cincinnati's offensive coordinator, Kitna was a natural fit. Kitna struggled early on while Dick LeBeau was head coach, but when Marvin Lewis came to town, things began to change. Kitna guided the Bengals to the brink of the playoffs that season and an 8-8 record. Kitna threw a career high 26 touchdown passes in his best season as a pro. The team had drafted Carson Palmer first overall though, and after a season of clipboard holding, Palmer and Kitna switched roles.
Kitna might have played out his Cincinnati years as a mentor, but Palmer was injured in New England in week 13 of 2004. Kitna led the team to a near upset in that game after taking over and then took the team to Philadelphia and beat the eventual NFC champs there on the last week of the season. Palmer returned to lead the Bengals to the AFC North title in 2005, but suffered the horrific knee injury on the second play of the team's first playoff game. Kitna came in cold and staked the Bengals to a 17-7 lead in the second quarter. It wouldn't hold, however, and the Bengals dropped Kitna's final game in stripes, 31-17.
The following year, Kitna signed as a free agent with the Detroit Lions who were looking for a veteran quarterback to run new offensive coordinator Mike Martz's system. The offense eventually clicked, but with little running game and a porous defense, the Lions limped to a 3-13 finish. In 2007, the Lions jumped out to a 6-2 start, but fell apart in the second half finishing 7-9, despite Kitna topping 4000 yards through the air for the second straight season. In 2008, the Lions struggled out of the gate and Kitna's season was finished when he was injured in week four. The Lions would go on to finish 0-16, prompting a house cleaning that included Kitna.
He was traded to the Dallas Cowboys where he sat behind Tony Romo for all of 2009. He was 4-5 as Dallas starter in 2010 after Tony Romo broke his collarbone. This season he played in parts of three games in relief of Romo.
Kitna finished with 169 career touchdown passes 56th all time, more than Troy Aikman, Jim Plunkett, Joe Theismann, and Roger Staubach.
Kitna will be remembered as both a fierce competitor and sincere man of faith. Before there was Tim Tebow, Kitna was one of the more outspoken Christians in the NFL. Bengals fans will remember him as the quarterback who began the road back to respectability for the franchise
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