Now Entering the MVP Race: Jamaal Charles
Coming off a five(!)-TD performance, the Chiefs back has raced into the award picture—and more importantly, he’s been the spark to a late-season offensive charge in Kansas City; plus your mailbag questions
The MVP debate lost one borderline candidate Monday night. Calvin Johnson was going to have a tough road, as any wide receiver always would, but his three drops—two of them at crucial times—in a loss that could keep the Lions from making the playoffs will knock out whatever chance he had in what has been a great season.
But the debate did gain one entrant in Week 15: Kansas City running back Jamaal Charles. His five-touchdown performance in the Chiefs’ win at Oakland Sunday (and seven in the last two weeks, for a league-high 18 on the season) is notable not just because of the sheer luminosity of it. It’s the totality of the offensive renaissance in Kansas City.
For the first half of the season, the Chiefs survived on defense and whatever Charles’ legs could provide on offense. In the last four games K.C. has averaged 42 points a game—42 points total would have been a month’s work back in October—and this has been Charles’ eye-popping output:
When a guy is averaging 8.6 yards per touch, maybe he should be getting the ball more than 19 times a game. But whatever Andy Reid is calling in the last month is working, and much of it is centered around Charles. If the Chiefs win out and finish 13-3, and the pacesetters—Peyton Manning, Tom Brady, Russell Wilson, Cam Newton—struggle a bit in the last two weeks, Charles could become a dark-horse candidate for either the MVP or Offensive Player of the Year.
“I’m not in the race,” Charles told me after the 56-31 rout of the Raiders. “That’s not for me to decide if I deserve something like that. I deserve to work hard and get ready to play the best football I can. After that, it’s not up to me.”
“I do think about it,” he said. “But then I think about what I can control.”
What Reid has brought to the Chiefs, other than a calming influence after a raging storm in the last couple of seasons in Kansas City, is some new ideas to the offense. One is how to use Charles. Example: Saturday night in the hotel in California, Reid shared the first 15 plays with the offensive team, as he does every week. And the first play was a screen to Charles, a play the Chiefs thought would be great to run early to take advantage of the Raiders’ overaggressiveness and their wont to pursue plays too fast on screens.
“I looked on the paper and saw that,” said Charles, “and I focused on it all night. I could see it happening, and I knew it would be a good play to run for us. It turned out to be wide open.”
The 49-yard screen on the first play from scrimmage was one of four touchdown catches for Charles on the day, and for the year he’s been the best receiver out of the backfield in the league, by far: 65 catches, 655 yards, 11 touchdowns.
Now it’s going to be up to the 50 voters who make the picks for post-season awards for the Associated Press. (I am one of them.) Charles’s play down the stretch, and how he’s enlivened an offense that needed it, could thrust him into a race no one saw him in a month ago.
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