Commentary

At QB, Jon Kitna has Cowboys' back

Tony Romo's capable understudy delivers under center, embraces role as team's No. 2

Updated: November 22, 2010, 8:53 AM ET
By Tim MacMahon | ESPNDallas.com

ARLINGTON, Texas -- No need for Tony Romo to rush back from a broken collarbone. Jon Kitna is holding down the fort just fine for the Dallas Cowboys.

Actually, that isn't high enough praise after Kitna's performances the past two weeks. The 38-year-old backup has been phenomenal during the Cowboys' two-game winning streak to open the Jason Garrett era.

One week after lighting it up in an upset of the New York Giants, Kitna turned in a remarkably efficient performance in Sunday's 35-19 win over the Detroit Lions, finishing off his former team with his feet. He's accounted for seven touchdowns -- six passing, one rushing -- and only one turnover during the 3-7 Cowboys' back-to-back wins.

"Are you a believer now?" Roy Williams said, jabbing at reporters who rolled their eyes when the receiver proclaimed that Kitna was just as good as Romo. "Give the man time and he's one of the best in the league, in my opinion."

This isn't about a quarterback controversy developing. That isn't going to happen.

Romo remains the Cowboys' franchise quarterback. He'll be the starter again once he's healthy, which will take at least another three weeks. Kitna understands that and embraces the backup role, emphasizing that it's his job to "support and serve" Romo as well as he possibly can.

"Right now, the best way for me to serve him is for me to play at a high level," Kitna said after completing 18 of 24 passes for 147 yards and three touchdowns and adding another 40 yards and a touchdown on four carries.

The Cowboys are in good hands until Romo's broken left collarbone heals.

Kitna is certainly a far cry from Brad Johnson, who was far past his prime when he failed as Romo's fill-in for a few games in 2008. Kitna can still play.

Forget about the 29-yard touchdown run on a bootleg, which sealed the win and led to a lot of laughs on the Cowboys' sideline. There was a fluke factor to that play, with the Lions completely fooled by the fake to the running back. Kitna can still move fairly well by quarterback standards, but the more important physical attribute is the fact he still has a lot of juice left in his right arm.

Kitna displayed his arm strength last week while exploiting the Giants' secondary on several downfield throws, when he got great protection from his offensive line. The Cowboys didn't block as well against Detroit, and the Lions took away the vertical passing game, but Kitna put a lot of zip on several throws, such as his two touchdown passes to Miles Austin in tight quarters.

"He's doing his thing," Austin said. "I just want him to keep going."

[+] EnlargeJon Kitna
Matthew Emmons/US PresswireThere's no quarterback controversy brewing in Dallas, but Tony Romo (left) could pick up a few tips from backup Jon Kitna.

This isn't a journeyman on his last legs. Kitna has performed as well the past two weeks as he ever did during tenures as a starter in Seattle, Cincinnati and Detroit.

"The people I'm playing with allow me to play at this level," Kitna said. "That's the way I look at quarterback. The people you play with allow you to play at your highest level."

Of course, Kitna deserves a lion's share of the credit. And not just for the pretty numbers that he's put up.

Romo might learn a lot about leadership by watching the way Kitna works. Kitna, who does everything from playing cards to attending Bible studies with teammates, is the kind of guy teammates rally around.

"He has a lot of moxie," said Garrett, who has carefully avoided comparing Kitna to Romo. "He is a tremendous competitor. There's a reason he's been playing in this league as long as he has. He's the kind of guy you want on your football team. He's the kind of guy you want playing quarterback for you.

"He's got a lot of mental toughness, he loves to play the game and I think we've seen that the last couple of weeks."

The Cowboys are counting on seeing it for at least a few more weeks.

Tim MacMahon covers the Cowboys for ESPN Dallas. You can follow him on Twitter or leave a question for his weekly mailbag.

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