Kitna tries to lead the Lions to consecutive wins for the first time in more than two years Sunday when they host the San Francisco 49ers.
The veteran signal caller took off on a scramble late in the third quarter of Detroit’s 30-14 upset of Atlanta last Sunday. As he slid to the turf with a 17-yard gain, Kitna absorbed a shot to the head from Falcons cornerback DeAngelo Hall, who hit him along with Michael Boley.
The 34-year-old Kitna sprang up and charged Boley, triggering a skirmish among the players on the field. In a season devoid of positive moments for the Lions (2-6), Kitna provided a galvanizing one that may have provided some momentum heading into this game.
“That was huge,” Lions defensive tackle Cory Redding said. “He went after the wrong guy, but that’s just temporary insanity. The point is that he was fighting for himself and for the team. Quarterbacks always talk about being tough, but he stepped up.
“You don’t see that from a lot of quarterbacks. I’d take that guy in my foxhole any time.”
Kitna is on pace for his best season since 2003, when he threw for 3,591 yards and 26 touchdowns for Cincinnati. He has topped 200 yards in all eight games for Detroit and has thrown for 2,174 yards and 10 touchdowns with 10 interceptions overall.
“We can’t have Jon getting hurt in something like that—trust me, there are 10 other guys on the field with him who will take care of something like that,” said Lions receiver Roy Williams, who had a 60-yard touchdown catch and six receptions for 138 yards in last week’s win. “It was cool, and that shows you what kind of a competitor he is, but don’t get hurt.”
Kitna finished with 321 yards, his second 300-yard game of the season and seventh of his career. His performance gave Detroit a chance to win consecutive games for the first time since starting the 2004 season 2-0, a span of 38 contests.
Running back Kevin Jones added 110 yards and two TDs against the Falcons, topping 100 yards for the second time in three games. After injuries limited him to 684 yards in 13 games last season, Jones already has 584 yards and a career-high seven touchdowns—six rushing.
While Detroit’s offense is flourishing, San Francisco (3-5) visits Ford Field coming off its best defensive performance of the season in a surprising 9-3 win last Sunday over Minnesota. After a five-week stretch in which they allowed 188 points and an average of 388.4 yards, the 49ers went with a simpler defensive scheme that limited the Vikings to 238 total yards and forced three turnovers.
“Hopefully that builds some confidence for our guys in the things we’ve been doing,” 49ers coach Mike Nolan said. “They’ve continued to work hard all the way through, even in the weeks where we (gave) up the 41, 41 and 48 (points) and whatever else it was. They’ve continued to work hard, and it showed in the game.”
It was the first time since a 24-7 win over Tampa Bay on Oct. 19, 2003, that San Francisco allowed less than 10 points in a game.
In addition to simplifying the defense, the 49ers also made two personnel changes that reaped huge dividends. Brandon Moore made a career-high 14 tackles while playing almost every position in the front seven, and safety Keith Lewis made three solo tackles in his first start.
“Everybody wants to win the game. There are no egos,” said Moore, who is tied for the team lead with 3 1/2 sacks. “It’s just good to prove to everybody that we’re capable of being successful. Inside here, everybody on this defense knows how good we can be.”
The win overshadowed an inept performance by the offense, which was limited to a season-low 133 yards. Alex Smith threw for just 105 yards and was intercepted once as the 49ers totaled only eight first downs.
The 49ers have won their last four meetings with the Lions—all played in San Francisco—and are visiting Detroit for the first time since a 27-24 loss on Sept. 25, 1995.
San Francisco is 10-2 in the series since 1984, with both losses coming on the road.