Holmgren decides it’s time to change quarterbacks
By SCOTT M. JOHNSON
KIRKLAND — The Seattle sports scene has had a lot to celebrate these days, so it was as if no one knew what to say when Jon Kitna faced the local media Wednesday.
"Fire away," Kitna said after a long silence. "I’m not going to kill myself or anything like that, so fire away."
The humor showed that Kitna was alive and well after learning that his job as starting quarterback of the Seahawks had been taken away.
Two hours earlier, coach Mike Holmgren announced that Brock Huard would replace Kitna and make the first start of his NFL career Sunday at Carolina. Kitna had heard the news the previous night, but seemed to be taking it well.
"Very surprised," Kitna said of his reaction. "It caught me off guard. As surprised as you can be with anything in this business. It’s just something that I have to deal with and roll with. My whole approach now is being there for Brock."
Now the Seahawks find themselves in the hands of a quarterback whose only NFL experience came during garbage time of a 23-0 loss to the Miami Dolphins just over four weeks ago. For the record, Huard completed 4 of 9 passes for 30 yards in a game that had already been decided.
On Sunday, his debut as a starter will have a bit more pressure.
"I’m thankful for this opportunity, and I’m going to go out there and give it my all," Huard said. "It’s an opportunity to help the Seahawks. It’s not about me or Jon or anything else. It’s just about us going out there, preparing ourselves to win and going out there to give it our best."
When making the announcement, Holmgren was quick to point out that it wasn’t meant to signal any sort of youth movement. Even though Kitna is the more experienced quarterback, Holmgren believes Huard can spark an offense that ranks 26th in the NFL.
"In no way is this to be construed as, ‘This is the grand experiment and we’ll just see how this works and write off this season,’" Holmgren said. "That’s not what this is all about. This is about winning games.
"… I have high expectations for the position and how that position has to function. I place high demands on the offensive team, and our passing game hasn’t been what we would like. That’s never one person. But clearly the quarterback is the focus. So we’re going to try to get something going with Brock."
The announcement came two days after Kitna and the offense stalled at crunch time of a 24-17 loss to the Kansas City Chiefs. Unlike his four-interception performance in the loss to Miami, Kitna was not glaringly bad against the Chiefs, but Holmgren wanted to see him be more aggressive.
Kitna was under the spotlight from the beginning of the season, especially with Huard waiting in the wings, but he was still surprised by the decision.
"After that first game, I felt like (playing cautious) was the best thing for us," Kitna said. "I think that was kind of the whole approach for us as an offense, not to turn the ball over.
"The Miami game, that was a debacle. But since then, I feel like I’ve really played within the system and done what was asked. But the way Coach put it, he wasn’t happy with the way I’ve thrown the ball all year. I just have to deal with that."
Kitna had started 19 consecutive games — and 26 of the last 27 — for the Seahawks. He began the 1999 seasons so well that he was named the AFC’s offensive player of the month in October. But he struggled down the stretch and didn’t help his case by throwing four interceptions in the opener this season.
Through the first five games of 2000, Kitna completed 76 of 124 passes for 828 yards, four touchdowns and eight interceptions. His quarterback rating (64.9) ranks 28th in the NFL.
But Kitna bounced back from the Miami loss, mainly because he has played a more conservative game. His rating in the past four weeks has been 80.7.
Holmgren said he hoped the quarterback switch would be a permanent decision, but did not rule out the possibility of making another change if Huard can’t perform up to the expected level.
If Kitna’s days as starting quarterback are over, this wasn’t the way he wanted to go out.
"This doesn’t mean I’m going to stop trying to get better or that I’m not hoping for another shot," Kitna said. "If it’s not here, somewhere else at some point down the road."
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