Kitna can show Seahawks how far he's come

Updated: October 25, 2003, 7:49 PM ET

CINCINNATI -- Jon Kitna was a bitter man.

A devout Christian, he knew he should forgive Seattle coach Mike Holmgren for writing him off and shipping him out in the early phase of rebuilding the +Seahawks+.

Kitna moved to Cincinnati and extended his career with the Bengals, but couldn't leave his raw feelings behind. Eventually, he recognized it was time to move on.

In a telephone call to Holmgren last year, Kitna put one of the biggest disappointments of his career behind. He and his former coach have made amends as they prepare for a reunion Sunday.

"It was just coming to maturity on my part," Kitna said. "I was just too stubborn to do it. Last year, I had finally held onto that bitterness long enough and let it beat me up long enough."

The idea now is to beat his former team.

The +Seahawks+ (5-1) are off to the best start in franchise history, finally showing the kind of results their fans expected when Holmgren arrived from Green Bay for the 1999 season.

Kitna led them to the playoffs that year, passing for 3,346 yards and 23 touchdowns as the +Seahawks+ made their first postseason appearance in 11 years. Only five games into the 2000 season, he was replaced by Brock Huard.

Holmgren wanted his own quarterback. Kitna wasn't it.

"I've been thinking about this a little bit this week, reflecting on that first year," Holmgren said. "I didn't know the players very well here, and I was really trying to establish an identity that I thought had been missing here for a long time.

"It didn't have as much to do with Jon Kitna as it had with bringing in someone that I knew, and maybe we could establish an identity around him."

Holmgren brought over Matt Hasselbeck from Green Bay in a trade. Kitna went to Cincinnati (2-4), where he's starting to get results.

He threw for three touchdowns and didn't have a turnover Sunday in a 34-26 victory over Baltimore, extending one of the best stretches of his seven-year career. He has thrown only one interception in the last three games, showing signs he's finally getting beyond his penchant to force passes that become interceptions.

"I'm seeing the field better than I ever have," said Kitna, who has completed 64 percent of his passes in the last three games for 714 yards with six touchdowns. "I have a good understanding of where all 11 guys are on defense and what they're trying to do to us. That's the No. 1 thing that's helped me."

It's even more impressive considering the Bengals haven't had a running game because Corey Dillon is limited by a strained groin. The moody running back popped off during the week, saying he's frustrated and wants to go somewhere else.

Dillon has repeatedly vented his frustrations in years past, so his latest outburst made little impact on teammates.

"That all comes with frustration," receiver Chad Johnson said. "When you're frustrated and things aren't going right, you forget your surroundings. That's all that is."

While Dillon fumed during the week, his counterpart on the +Seahawks+ reveled in his chance to play at Paul Brown Stadium. Shaun Alexander grew up in northern Kentucky, rooting for the Bengals and hoping they'd draft him.

Dillon was entrenched in 2000 and Alexander went to the +Seahawks+ with the 19th overall pick.

"Now, would I have been happy to go to the Bengals if they had traded Corey Dillon? Of course," Alexander said. "That would have been exciting, but they did what they had to do, and you can't blame them when you have a running back like Corey Dillon."

Instead, he's helped the +Seahawks+ move into first place -- a place that's still foreign to the Bengals. They haven't had a winning record since 1990, and are trying to get their first set of back-to-back wins since 2001.

Their chances rest with Kitna, who is trying to keep his first game against his former team in perspective.

"This is a big game for us," he said. "It's an opportunity to get two in a row at home and really get ourselves going in the right direction. I'm hyped for that more than anything.

"Obviously you want to beat your old team, but I don't feel any extra incentive this week. I feel the guys on that team respected me. We always had a great locker room there, so it's not like I have animosity."

Neither does Holmgren, who talks to Kitna from time to time and watches his progress from afar.

"I check Jon's stats every Monday when I open the paper up and see how he did," Holmgren said. "And except for this Sunday, I do root for him. He's one of the good guys I've met."

This story is from ESPN.com's automated news wire. Wire index