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Charles’ huge day lifts Chiefs to first win of season

  • The Kansas City Star
  • Published Sunday, Sep. 23, 2012, at 1:40 p.m.
  • Updated Tuesday, Nov. 6, 2012, at 11:22 a.m.

— Jamaal Charles put up a brave front about his return from last season’s torn ACL, but he revealed the truth Sunday after his most heroic game with the Chiefs.

He had been scared -- petrified, really -- that he would never be the same player he was before the injury, that he wouldn’t have the same speed, the same burst, the same ability to make defenders miss and get a big play.

Charles no longer doubts himself after he had a breakout game, rushing for 233 yards in a 27-24 overtime win over the Saints that well could have saved Kansas City’s season.

“I didn’t trust myself (until Sunday),’’ Charles said. “It really hit me when I started getting the runs. I started trusting myself.

“I kind of feel like the old me, especially breaking that long run and finishing it. It’s motivating me more that I still have my speed and I still can run the long ones.’’

Charles had a bigger game in 2009 when the Chiefs finished their season by beating Denver. He ran that day for a team-record 259 yards and could have had more had he not pulled himself from the game in the fourth quarter.

He was able to do so because the Chiefs had a big lead. On Sunday, the Chiefs needed every play he could give them. They trailed 24-6 in the third quarter and by then were without Peyton Hillis, who was knocked from the game with an ankle injury.

So they leaned on Charles, who was one week removed from his worst game as a pro. His 91-yard touchdown in the third quarter was the signature play of his career and ignited the largest comeback in Chiefs history.

Charles took the handoff from Matt Cassel and headed for left end. He showed his old burst by quickly cutting up the field and getting through a hole. Then he outran New Orleans safety Roman Harper to the end zone.

“He was doing what he always does,’’ coach Romeo Crennel said. “He runs with the football and he can make some guys miss. You give him a seam and he can run for a touchdown. He just did what he was supposed to do. We knew he could do it. We’re going to ask him to do it next week and the week after.’’

The situation at the time seemed hopeless for the Chiefs. The Saints had stretched a 10-6 halftime lead to 24-6 after two Chiefs turnovers led to New Orleans touchdowns.

If the Chiefs were to rally, they had no time to waste.

“It was a huge spark,’’ Cassel said. “It really rebounded us, gave us some confidence, got us going again. We needed one at that point, for sure. We were down 24-6 and we needed a play. There’s no better person to make it happen than Jamaal Charles.’’

The Saints were last in the NFL in rushing defense so the Chiefs planned to pound at them with Hillis and Charles. They had to modify the plan once Hillis left the game.

Charles had just 37 yards at halftime but the offensive linemen believed he would eventually make a big play.

“They said, ‘Don’t worry about the big runs. The big runs were going to come. Just get your five, your two, your three.’ The next thing you know, I had a big run,’’ Charles said.

Once the Chiefs finished their win on Ryan Succop’s sixth field goal, this one from 31 yards in overtime, they had a different outlook on their season. At 1-2, they are tied for second place in the AFC West.

They play against San Diego next Sunday at Arrowhead Stadium and can move into a tie for first place with a victory.

That prospect seems more reasonable now that Charles truly believes he is back.

“I feel great,’’ he said. “I’ve got bumps and bruises but I’ll be ready to suck it up for next week.

“I’ll see what the situation is. Whatever the coach tells me to do, I’m going to stay on the field as long as I can.’’

To reach Randy Covitz, send email to rcovitz@kcstar.com

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