|GAME OF THE WEEK: Tampa Bay and Detroit led by gritty, well-traveled QBs Jeff Garcia and Jon Kitna|
|Written by Admin|
|Thursday, 18 October 2007 11:21|
Jon Kitna sits in the pocket, throws deep and gambles by squeezing passes into traffic.
Beyond the scouting report, the undrafted and well-traveled quarterbacks have a lot in common as they lead their teams into the Tampa Bay-Detroit matchup at Ford Field.
``You see a lot of similarities,'' Lions linebacker Boss Bailey said. ``They're both warriors that are as tough as nails.''
Garcia and Kitna have helped the Buccaneers (4-2) and Lions (3-2) already match the total number of wins they had last year; both hope to surpass the modest marks Sunday.
``It's a big game for both teams obviously,'' Garcia said. ``We want to continue to be up there in the NFC South, to continue to be a first-place team. Detroit is really in the same position.
``There is definitely a lot riding on this game as far as continuing to build momentum.''
``We've given ourselves a chance going into the last two-thirds of the season, and that's what you want in this league,'' said Kitna, whose Lions trail the division-leading Green Bay Packers by 1 1/2 games.
Garcia and Kitna have bounced around a bit since starting their NFL careers in the 1990s.
When teams in the league passed on Garcia in the draft, the undersized (6-foot-1, 205 pounds) QB without a cannon for an arm took his game to Canada for five seasons before San Francisco gave him a shot.
Garcia started 10 games for the 49ers as an NFL rookie in 1999, then flourished the next season, earning his first of three straight Pro Bowl selections after almost losing his job to Rick Mirer.
``I've always admired what he does,'' Kitna said. ``I remember in San Francisco, the year he went to the Pro Bowl, he was one week from being benched in like Week 4. He hung in there and that was awesome.
``It's similar to the Derek Anderson story in Cleveland and Drew Brees when he was in San Diego, when you're on the verge of not playing and then you take off.''
Kitna started at Central Washington, an NAIA program, and landed with Seattle as an undrafted free agent.
After being the Seahawks' No. 1 QB in his third and fourth seasons, he signed with Cincinnati as a free agent and went on to be a starter for three more years.
Kitna led the Bengals to a surprising .500 record in 2003 with 26 touchdown passes, but it wasn't enough to keep Carson Palmer - the No. 1 pick overall that year - on the bench. After starting just three games over the next two seasons, Kitna was looking for work just when the Lions were looking to replace Garcia.
Detroit's new coaches, Rod Marinelli and offensive coordinator Mike Martz, signed Kitna and have steadfastly chosen to focus on his qualities, not his flaws.
Garcia, meanwhile, revived his career last season in Philadelphia after lackluster years with Cleveland and Detroit. When Donovan McNabb went down with an injury, Garcia helped the Eagles win their last five in the regular season and a playoff game.
He was still left looking for work, though, and signed a two-year deal with the Bucs, his fifth team in five seasons.
``I've made some mistakes and purchased some properties in some places where it's difficult to sell again,'' Garcia said. ``I was able to unload a couple last offseason, so I'm just trying to get rid of a town home in Detroit. It's a tough market to do that.''
So far, Garcia and Tampa Bay have entered into a win-win deal. The franchise was desperately seeking a QB after Chris Simms had his spleen removed.
Garcia's quarterback rating is among the NFL's leaders this season and he has proven again he is still among the best in league history at avoiding mistakes when he passes.
He has thrown 225 passes without an interception, including attempts in the postseason last season, for the longest active streak by almost 100 attempts.
Among all quarterbacks with at least 1,500 attempts, Garcia has thrown interceptions just 2.34 percent of the time, trailing just three QBs and slightly leading New England's Tom Brady.
``It's a credit to him,'' Bucs coach Jon Gruden said. ``He has been a guy that has really thrived at protecting the football.
``As far as I'm concerned, if we don't turn it over we win games.''
Kitna, conversely, does not have a good record of protecting the football.
Only two active quarterbacks have thrown interceptions at a higher rate, among those with at least 1,500 attempts, and just three fumble more often among those with at least 50 games played.
Since joining the Lions in 2006, Kitna has thrown an NFL-high 28 interceptions and leads the league with 19 fumbles. He has more turnovers (nine) than TDs (eight) this season.
Detroit has looked past Kitna's miscues because he also makes a lot of plays with his arm in Martz's pass-happy offense, throwing for a franchise-record 1,227 yards in September, for example.
Kitna created a stir before the season by saying he would be disappointed if Detroit didn't win at least 10 games - after it posted six straight seasons with double-digit losses - and it fired up the team.
In all three wins this season, Kitna has helped the Lions back from deficits or being tied in the fourth quarter.
``To come to Detroit and be able to have an impact like he has had,'' Garcia said, ``is definitely a tribute to him, his grit, his toughness and his passion for the game. I have tremendous respect for it.''
Garcia knows from experience how tough it is to win in Detroit, where the Matt Millen-led franchise is an NFL-worst 27-74 since 2001. In league history, the only stretch of futility that compares is Tampa Bay's 12 straight seasons with at least 10 losses from 1983-94.
Detroit is led, however, by a coach who knows what its like to win because of his decade on the sidelines with the Bucs.
The Lions hired Marinelli last season, giving him a chance to be a head coach for the first time after he coached Tampa Bay's vaunted defensive line from 1996-2005.
Marinelli helped the Bucs win a Super Bow. He keeps his ring in a drawer next to his socks and an old wallet, and his hard-driving, consistent ways have seemed to change the losing culture in Detroit.
He hired Joe Barry, his son-in-law, away from the Bucs to be his defensive coordinator and lured defensive end Dewayne White away from them as a free agent.
While Marinelli has been encouraged about Detroit's improvement, he is bothered by the team's lack of consistency.
``The biggest thing I keep selling is `one snap at a time, one snap at a time,''' Marinelli said. ``We started the season that way, then went on the road and didn't do it at all. Then, came back and did it really well, and then we didn't do it again. I'm not consistent enough.''