Sunday, August 26, 2001

Kitna may win by default

        Scott Mitchell probably lost the Bengals quarterback sweepstakes Saturday night. You can't take a safety and throw two interceptions in one half and expect to run anybody's team. Even this one.

        But give Mitchell this: Remove the curiosity attached to his start, and the game lacked any meaning whatsoever. The day insignificance grows a face, it will look like preseason football.

        Jon Kitna probably won the job by default. We can't say definitively, given that he fumbled twice and produced no points in two quarters, mostly against Buffalo's reserves. But hey, he looked better turning over the ball.

Jon Kitna is sacked.
(AP photo)
| ZOOM |
        After three quarters, Mitchell and Kitna had a combined quarterback rating of 69.8.

        That was less than the individual ratings of each of the Bills QBs, Rob Johnson and Alex Van Pelt. That's the Titanic, in full dive.

        The best Bengals QB move Saturday came from Akili Smith, Contestant No.3, who roamed the sideline in street clothes, suffering from shoulder tendinitis. Can you gain ground by standing in place? With this bunch, you can. Definitely. Akili never looked better.

Mitchell looked ugly

        No doubt, Bengals coach Dick LeBeau will “have to look at the film” before making the monumental decision on who might flail behind center two weeks hence. God love him. Looking at this tape will be like watching Psycho alone in a thunderstorm. Or a Three Stooges festival.

        In his half, Mitchell threw two interceptions and had a QB rating of 18.9. In his, Kitna fumbled in each of his first two series and spent considerable time ducking.

        “If I had to put a grade on it, I'd give myself a C,” Kitna said. He must have been grading on a curve.

        If you're Mitchell, you know you're not throwing strikes when the press box announcer says one of your throws was “apparently intended for Warrick.”

        You could be off your game when your throw on a 5-yard out pattern floats like a beach ball at Dodger Stadium before it's intercepted. To be fair, in his last shot at the starting job, Mitchell wasn't exactly surrounded by competence. We counted four dropped passes, including Darnay Scott's muff in the Buffalo end zone on the Bengals' first drive. On the safety, Buffalo defensive end Erik Flowers was on Mitchell almost before Mitchell could duck.

Kitna had edge all along

        Competition aside, the Bengals wanted Kitna to win the job. They paid him like a starter. They brought in an offensive coordinator with whom he was familiar. They drafted another receiver. The Bengals gave Kitna the car keys. They did everything but drive him to the Sept.9 opener.

        The job was Kitna's to lose Saturday. He wasn't bad enough to do that. At the moment, he seems the lesser of three evils.

        All this wouldn't be so vital if Game 1 weren't so important. The Bengals are on the cusp of mediocrity. They have a chance to be something greater than terrible.

        A win over New England in the opener could set up a 4-3 start, with wins at home against Cleveland and Chicago and a road win at either San Diego or Pittsburgh. A first-week loss would give rise to the Here We Go Again chorus. We know that one better than the national anthem.

        The Bengals got the QB they wanted. If it was by default, well, these are the Bengals. Never forget that.

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