Wednesday, February 13, 2008

The Quarterback Quiz: Detroit Lions

What with today's Brady Queen foolery concluded, it's time to get back to the regularly scheduled feature. That being the Quarterback Quiz, which today stars Mister Christian ™ Jon Kitna -- who almost assuredly disapproves of the whole gay thing. One half of the NFL's uber-devout signal callers (the other being Kurt Warner) Kitna, when asked after the Lions' annual Thanksgiving Day game (this year against the Packers, who trounced them) what he was grateful for, answered, "That I don't have to go to hell." Interesting modus operandi there, Jonny. He also is the proprietor of the Jon & Jennifer Kitna Eternal Blessings Foundation, which means that if you want to trust him to pass you on up to heaven, you have to be careful, as you might be intercepted by agents of the Devil. That happens to Kitna a lot too on the playing field, not just the spiritual one. Unfortunately his heavenly radiance has not been enough to lead the Lions to deliverance from their perpetual poltroonery. Need more brownie points, Jon. Or a higher rating.

Detroit Lions (7-9): Jon Kitna

Lions and Tigers and Bears, oh my. The Bears led Rex Grossman to Super Bowl XLI and got dismantled by the Colts, the Tigers finally pulled their heads out of their sphincters, made it to the World Series in 2006 and got dismantled by the Cardinals, but the Lions are still made of fail. They won four championships in the pre-Super Bowl era, but have not made it to the big game since, and have exactly one playoff win to their credit, in 1991. Due to Barry Sanders, they enjoyed some success in the 1990s, making the playoffs in '93, '94, '95, '97, and '99, but lost humiliatingly in the first round each time. Then they hired Matt Millen as president/CEO, and it all went to hell. During 2001, 2002, and 2003, the club did not win a single game away from Ford Field, and since Millen took over the team, their won-loss record is 31-81, a Kansas City Royals-like .277 clip. He has a history of outrageously poor draft selection and had no business experience when he took over the team.Yet despite this, bewilderingly (and maddeningly, for long-suffering Lions fans) he got a five-year extension at the end of 2005. Detroit fans are trying everything to get him out of there, including organizing walkouts and hoping the team loses to hasten his firing, but a fat pie of fail hasn't booted him yet. A contingent of Lions fans, displaying remarkable devotion, actually organized a mass event to all show up in Bengals colors when the Lions were playing them in 2005. None of this has worked. This year, the Lions started 6-2, and then realizing they were doing too well to be the Detroit Lions, finished the season 1-7. Millen kept his job, despite that "Fire Millen!" is becoming as ubiquitous a chant to Michigan as "Yankees Suck!" is to Massachusetts.

Into this black hole of football operations came the saintly Jon Kitna. After spending the first nine years of his career splitting time between the Seattle Seahawks, who first signed him as an undrafted free agent, and later the Cincinnati Bengals where he was instrumental in prepping Carson Palmer, Kitna joined the club in 2006. He signed a four-year contract as a free agent, which means that he's tenured for two more seasons, and started all sixteen games that year, recording (by the grace of God, undoubtedly) a 62.4 CP, 4,208 yards, 21 TD/22 INT, and a 79.9 rating. The Lions finished an unqualifiedly abysmal 3-13, dead last in the NFC North, which makes this year's record, two games south of .500, look positively Patriots-like. This year, Kitna again made all sixteen starts, completing 63% of his passes for 18 TDs, 20 INT, 4,068 yards, and an 80.9 rating. (Believe it or not, he does have more career TD passes than picks -- 147 to 146. Better watch those corners, Jon). Kitna has a good arm and can rack up the yards, as evidenced by those big totals, but has always had a propensity for getting picked, which happens when you keep floating them out there. He also guaranteed in March of 2007 that the Lions would win at least 10 games, so he must have attended Pat Robertson's school of predictions. Hey, 7 is only three off from 10, don't hate.

Kitna, a three-sport athlete in high school (football, baseball, and basketball) actually attended Division II Central Washington University, where he quarterbacked the Wildcats for three years and led them to the NAIA National Football Championship (whatever the hell that is; it sounds prestigious) in 1995. He had a 58.8% career completion percentage, 12,353 passing yards, 99 TDs and 59 INTs; the fact that these numbers aren't overwhelming, combined with a Div II school, probably explained why Kitna didn't get drafted. But the Seahawks, as mentioned, signed him as a rookie free agent and he saw time with the club between 1997 and 2000, starting 33 of 64 games and recording his most successful season in 1999; he had a 54.5 CP, 3,346 yards, 23 TD to 16 INT, and a 77.7 rating, the highest he posted in his time as a starter there.

In 2001, he moved onto Cincinnati, where he started 15 of 16 games but only recorded a 61.1 rating, 12 TDs, 22 INTs, and a 53.9 CP. He saw relatively similar fortunes in 2002, but in 2003, he played every down and was named Comeback Player of the Year for guiding the Bengals to a break-even 8-8 season, their first non-losing campaign since 1996. (So he does have experience steering teams back from the abyss, but maybe not even his holy powers can help the Lions). Kitna enjoyed a very strong season, as he finished 62.3 percent of his passes for 3,591 yards, 26 TD to 15 INT, and a 87.4 rating, but that was his last as a starter with Cincinnati. The Bengals had just drafted Heisman winner Palmer to take over the job, and Kitna stepped into the role of guide and mentor; the two men also developed a close friendship off the field, helped along by their mutual love of golfing. (No word on Palmer's opinion of Kitna's other hobbies, which include Bible stories, boating, and camping. Also, amusing typo: Kitna's Wikipedia page lists him as 16 feet, 2 inches, but I assure you, he's a much more pedestrian 6'2". Perhaps someone saw him right after he'd eaten his Holy Wheaties).

Kitna's backup this year was J.T. O'Sullivan, but next year will be 23-year-old Michigan State product Drew Stanton, who was placed on injured reserve by the team before the season even started; he was taken 43rd overall by the Lions out of MSU in 2007. Due to Millen's questionable draft history, Stanton will be under a microscope, and since he hasn't played a down with the big club, it's too early to judge if the Lions regard him as the quarterback of the future. Kitna, meanwhile, is 35 and has 2 years left on his contract, so once it runs out, he may want to get on to his life after football, which he has all planned out. Aside from the whole Eternal Blessings thing, Kitna, who has a degree in math education from CWU, plans to teach high school when he's done (his wife wants to teach physical education, which you think would be the other way around, but even football players get tired of running around all the time). Meanwhile, Stanton will presumably be the one attempting valiantly to resurrect the moribund Lions, and you can analyze their on-field weaknesses, of which there are many, up the wazoo. (The Lions ranked a woeful 31st in offensive rush yards with 80.9 a game, and flat at the bottom in several defensive categories -- 32nd in points allowed a game with an average of 27.2, 32nd in yards allowed a game with an average of 377.6, 31st in pass defense with 258.2 yards allowed a game, and 23rd in run defense with 119.4 yards allowed a game). Yet despite this, they managed a 7-9 record and thus will be picking 15th, instead of 2nd as they were last year. Besides, Millen can't be counted on not to screw things up, and that is the real problem with this franchise. Until he goes, the guy taking the snaps will just be collateral.

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