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Cowboys QB Kitna ready for challenge of replacing Romo

IRVING, Texas -- Jon Kitna's main role on the Dallas Cowboys this season has been to orchestrate card games, dominoes, electronic Scrabble and, as he puts it, "anything you can compete at."

Now he's in charge of their offense, too.

Kitna is Dallas' new starting quarterback, replacing Tony Romo for at least six weeks and perhaps the rest of the season.

Until taking over after Romo broke his collarbone Monday night, Kitna hadn't played in an NFL regular-season game in more than two years and never in his previous 21 games in Dallas. He doesn't quite have the same grasp on the playbook that Romo had and, at 38, he's less mobile.

Yet Kitna is plenty comfortable as a starter, having done so for seven years with the Seattle Seahawks, Cincinnati Bengals and Detroit Lions. The Cowboys' offense is similar to those, and Kitna's arm remains strong.

The biggest limitation might be the guys around him. The Cowboys are 1-5, their worst start since 1989 and among the worst in the franchise's 50-year history.

If any team needed a fresh start, it's this one. Perhaps changing quarterbacks will be the spark that Dallas needs. Imagine what a story that would be: The aging veteran replaces the record-setting hotshot, and the Cowboys again start playing like the team that won the NFC East last season and was a popular pick to reach the Super Bowl this season.

"I'd be lying to say that you don't have moments that you have that contemplation and think like that," Kitna said Wednesday. "But for us, the task at hand is this Sunday. The one thing that has been proven to us the first six weeks of the season is that wins are hard to come by."

Of that, he's an expert.

Kitna's career record is 46-69. He has posted a winning record only once in those seven seasons as the primary starter -- the first one, with Seattle going 8-7 for him in 1999. He has had one break-even season and several clunkers (2-12, 3-13).

Kitna lost his last five starts and, over a longer stretch, is 1-11. That misery came in 2007-08 in Detroit, while the Lions established various NFL futility marks.

Cowboys wide receiver Roy Williams caught passes from Kitna then and has been his top supporter since they were reunited in Dallas. Williams is really pumping up Kitna now.

"He will be the next savior in this place," Williams said. "Get one win, maybe that will trickle into some more wins and we will be sitting here at 7-5. Then we will say that we are in it."

In his relief role Monday night, Kitna was 16-of-33 passing for 187 yards and two touchdowns with three sacks and a lost fumble.

Kitna's first and third passes were tipped. Soon after, he lost 10 yards on a sack, forcing Dallas to punt from its end zone. His two touchdowns came in the closing minutes, after the Cowboys already were behind 38-20 and the outcome pretty much decided.

"I just have to go out there and try to get the ball in the hands of the playmakers," Kitna said. "I'd be lying to say that I could go in and start out where Tony left off in terms of just the complexity that they've arrived at in this system and things like that. I would say that we'll probably be a little more simple. But to the naked eye, I don't think there would be a difference."

The last time Romo was hurt, in 2008, the Cowboys turned to another aging veteran, Brad Johnson. He lost two of three starts, including blowing a lead against the St. Louis Rams when they were nearly as dreadful as the Kitna-era Lions. The Cowboys ended up missing the playoffs by one game, prompting team owner Jerry Jones to trade a starting cornerback for the comfort of a more reliable backup, Kitna.

Romo kept him off the field by taking every snap last season, the only quarterback to do so. Kitna was thrilled. Having done it several times in his career, he knew what an honor it was. Plus, it gave him time to heal all the lingering bruises from his Detroit days and to get more familiar with the playbook and his teammates.

"I think he could start for a lot of teams," Cowboys coach Wade Phillips said. "He can throw it down the field. He can throw the deep ball to those guys, and we've got some guys who can run deep. And he can get it in tight spots. You don't have to check down and throw the short passes."

Kitna's role as the team's unofficial Game Master helps, too.

It shows he has asserted himself in the locker room. Teammates have learned to follow his lead off the field, so it'll be a natural extension to do so on the field Sunday against the Jacksonville Jaguars.

"We had Ken Stabler (in Houston and New Orleans), and it was the same kind of deal. Players would be hanging around in the locker room, and a lot of guys would be around him," Phillips said. "I think that shows leadership."

Phillips also sees a wily veteran in Kitna, things like using a hard count to draw defenses offside.

"I think we're going to be really glad we have him," Phillips said.

Copyright 2010 by The Associated Press

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