Skinny on Kitna: In thin market, he could be QB Ravens lean on

THE BALTIMORE SUN

It was halftime of yesterday's AFC wild-card game when I thought I had it all figured out - the Ravens would be crazy not to pursue veteran quarterback Jon Kitna when he becomes a free agent at the end of this season.

Now I'm not sure what to think.

Kitna looked as if he might save the playoffs for the Cincinnati Bengals after starting quarterback Carson Palmer was injured on his first pass of the game. Kitna completed seven of his first eight passes and led the Bengals to a 10-point first-quarter lead, and I could see him becoming the stabilizing influence that the Ravens and Kyle Boller so badly need after such a disappointing 2005 performance.

Maybe he still makes sense. He figures to be one of the top quarterbacks in a thin free-agent market, but his performance in the second half only helped hasten the arrival of free agency. He had trouble moving the offense and had a Bolleresque meltdown in the fourth quarter as Cincinnati went one-and-out in its first playoff appearance in 15 years.

Give the Steelers a little credit. They narrowed the gap before intermission and made some major defensive adjustments in the third quarter to dominate the second half, but that doesn't excuse the two interceptions that Kitna threw to remove all doubt.

Kitna still is expected to draw interest from enough teams to demand a starting job next season, something Brian Billick may be reluctant to promise with Boller showing signs of growth during the past month. But the Ravens have to do something, and Kitna might be the short-term fix they need to re-emerge as a playoff team.

Can't help but feel sorry for Bengals coach Marvin Lewis, after he lost two key skills players on what originally looked like an uplifting 66-yard pass play on their first possession. Who knows what would have happened if Palmer and wide-out Chris Henry had not suffered knee injuries on the play, but the Steelers were going to be a handful regardless.

It wasn't hard to tell that it was a rivalry game. Steelers linebacker Joey Porter and Bengals pop-off Chad Johnson exchanged heated words during warm-ups and had to be kept apart by the officials.

The animosity carried over into the game, and there were several shoving matches in the first quarter - particularly after the injury to Palmer heightened tension between the Bengals' offense and the Steelers' defense.

CBS football analyst Boomer Esiason dropped a coaching rumor during the pre-game show that might be of some local interest, speculating that New England Patriots defensive coordinator Eric Mangini will be a very strong candidate for the vacant New York Jets head coaching position.

Mangini is the son-in-law of Baltimore attorney, player agent and author Ron Shapiro and the brother-in-law of Cleveland Indians general manager Mark Shapiro. He's also a former Jets assistant whose stock has risen far over the past few years on Bill Belichick's staff.

Vince Young's decision to enter the NFL draft after his fantastic performance in the BCS title game shouldn't come as a surprise to anyone. His stock will never be higher than it is after upstaging Heisman Trophy winners Reggie Bush and Matt Leinart in the Rose Bowl.

Prediction: I think when the Rose Bowl euphoria wears off, he goes behind both Bush and Leinart. Maybe as low as fifth.

(Don't worry about writing that down or anything. If I get that one right, I'll be sure to remind everyone.)

I'm scratching my head over the McDonald's "Pounder Index," an NFL-sanctioned advertising gimmick that rates the intensity of football's scariest collisions, and I'm not normally a very sensitive guy.

In the nationally aired spots, several nasty hits were replayed and given numerical ratings (8.2, 8.6, etc.). There supposedly is a weight/speed ratio calculated by STATS, though the actual equation is supposedly a secret.

I'm sure this sounded really great in some advertising boardroom, but I'm guessing it goes away in a hurry if somebody ends up in a wheelchair during the playoffs. I mean, do you get a bonus for that?

Now that I think about it, I did feel like going out to get a Double Quarter Pounder at several points during yesterday's NFL games, but that happens every week.

peter.schmuck@baltsun.com

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