By SCOTT M. JOHNSON
JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Following a meeting between the Seattle Seahawks quarterbacks and coach Mike Holmgren last week, Jon Kitna found himself scribbling messages in his game-plan notebook.
Perhaps the most important was, in Kitna’s words: “I have to execute better so he’ll trust me and continue to do these things.”
That is what Kitna’s career in Seattle has boiled down to recently. Above everything else, the 28-year-old quarterback is trying to regain his coach’s trust and confidence.
So Sunday’s performance – when Kitna completed 22 of 33 passes for 231 yards and three touchdowns in a 28-21 win over the Jacksonville Jaguars – had to be especially satisfying. For the first time in a long time, Kitna earned Holmgren’s confidence.
“I think it will,” Kitna said. “That was one thing he said, ‘You guys are going to have to play into my trust.’ Hopefully, today was an example of that. Anytime you win, I think it helps the trust factor.”
Last Monday’s meeting wasn’t just about trust. The coach and his quarterbacks sat down to open lines of communication. Holmgren calmly explained to his quarterbacks what he wanted from them, then asked what he could do in return. Kitna’s response: open up the offense.
“From our meeting on Monday,” Kitna said, “he came in (Wednesday) and said, ‘I’m going to cut this thing loose. You guys want it, Jon wants it, the quarterbacks want it, so we’re going to do it.’ “
Using a more aggressive offense than the Seahawks have shown in a long time, Kitna delivered. He completed three passes of more than 20 yards, which equaled the amount Kitna had thrown in his previous four starts combined. Kitna’s 231 yards passing were his second-highest mark of the season, and he continually made big throws when it counted.
During a subpar first half in which he had led only one scoring drive, Kitna turned things around by single-handedly leading the Seahawks on a nine-play, 67-yard drive in the final minute. Kitna completed 7 of 8 passes for 70 yards on that drive, including a 15-yard touchdown pass to Sean Dawkins with 13 seconds remaining that pulled the Seahawks to within 21-14.
In fact, Kitna completed 18 of 23 passes with three touchdowns on the final five drives. He threw second-half scoring passes to Derrick Mayes and Ricky Watters, and added a key 29-yard pass to Dawkins on third down with less than four minutes remaining to set up the game-winning touchdown.
It was quite a switch for a quarterback who entered the game ranked 29th in the NFL with a squeamish 67.9 rating.
“It was a gutsy performance,” Holmgren said. “He’s been struggling a little bit this year. I told him I was going to open it up, that I was not going to hold it in like I did last week. That’s my end of the bargain to him. His is, he’s got to make plays, make throws. And he did that.”
Having already lost his starting job to Brock Huard, Kitna knew he couldn’t mess up his chance after begging for a more aggressive offense. And when he got the chance, Kitna kept up his end.
“When you lose your job, it’s human nature to be looking over your shoulder a little bit,” Kitna said. “You play a little more tentative, because you don’t want to make a mistake that’s going to make you lose your job again.”
Kitna may have done enough Sunday to make Holmgren’s next 13 days difficult. Huard is expected to return from his ongoing concussion in time for Seattle’s Nov. 26 game against the Denver Broncos, but at least Kitna earned back some confidence.
“It’s Brock’s job,” Kitna said. “I have no inkling of anything different. As the starter, you hope the injury doesn’t make you lose your job.
“I am not trying to audition for a job or anything like that. I am just trying to play football and help this team win games. When Brock comes back and he’s able to play, I go back into the backup role. That’s the role I’m playing right now.”
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