Kittner to make third straight start for Falcons

Updated: November 5, 2003, 8:56 PM ET
ESPN

FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. -- After watching the film, Atlanta Falcons coach Dan Reeves decided Kurt Kittner's performance wasn't as bad as it looked the first time.

So Kittner will get another start at quarterback Sunday.

"I thought he did a better job than (it appeared) standing on the sidelines looking at it," Reeves said Wednesday. "He missed some targets, but I think three games should give us a good evaluation to see exactly where he is."

While the Falcons (1-7) don't have a lot of options at quarterback until Michael Vick returns, it's still worth asking: Why is 2K making his third straight start?

Kittner's rating is an abysmal 32.4, which would easily be lowest in the league if he qualified. He has completed only 42 percent of his passes. He has four interceptions and only one touchdown.

Last Sunday against Philadelphia, Kittner threw two of the ugliest passes you'll see at this level.

With Brian Finneran breaking free down the sideline about 20 yards away, Kittner nearly threw the ball in the stands. Then, with Peerless Price standing all alone in the end zone and Brian Kozlowski open at the 15, Kittner split the difference, throwing the ball right to Eagles cornerback Lito Sheppard standing between them.

"It's good to get out there and get another shot, but I need to make those throws I know I can make," Kittner said. "Last week, I didn't make those. I need to be more consistent."

Kittner had completed 11 of 18 passes for just 78 yards when Reeves made a change early in the fourth quarter. Doug Johnson, who started the first six games, went the rest of the way, completing 5-of-10 for 86 yards in a 23-16 loss.

But Reeves has upgraded his assessment of Kittner's performance.

"He made some improvement from the week before against a really good defensive team," the coach said. "So it's going to be interesting to see if he makes another step up."

Interesting, indeed.

Kittner will be making his first career start on the road when the Falcons face the Giants. Not only does he have to overcome one of the league's most hostile settings, he'll also be facing a fearsome defensive line led by sack master Michael Strahan.

The Giants have 27 sacks, ranking second in the league when computed by the number of pass plays by their opponent. Strahan has nine of those sacks, tied for second in the NFC.

"That's something you can't control," Kittner said. "As a quarterback, you have to go out there, make your reads and trust in the fact that everyone is getting blocked."

He's not going to worry about getting pulled again, either.

"You just need to go out and play," Kittner said. "I don't think anyone thinks about that going into a game. They just think about what they can do to play well."

Oh, yeah, Kittner also will be playing with a new left tackle standing between him and the Giants.

Kevin Shaffer, a seventh-round draft pick in 2002, will make his first career start in place of Bob Whitfield, who sustained a season-ending injury against the Eagles.

"Strahan is a beast," said receiver Brian Finneran. "It's always important to have your offensive linemen play well, and this week is no exception. We need them to step up a little more."

Actually, the best hope for salvaging any remnant of hope this season lies with the return of Vick, who broke his right leg in the preseason. He hopes to begin running full speed and working on his drops next week. If that goes well, he would try to practice the following week.

Vick is still shooting to return for Nov. 30 game at Houston.

"It's been painful to watch," said Vick, who led the Falcons to the playoffs in his first season as a starter. "That's why I want to come, to provide a spark any way I can."

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