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Chiefs’ Charles is latest example of great player on a struggling team

  • Kansas City Star
  • Published Friday, Dec. 28, 2012, at 8:52 p.m.

— With five Pro Bowl selections for a team that drags a 2-13 record into Sunday’s season finale at Denver, it’s fair to say the sum of the Chiefs’ parts in 2012 is much greater than the whole.

That doesn’t mean they’re not playing for each other, especially when it comes to one of those Pro Bowlers, running back Jamaal Charles.

Those who have blocked for Charles have a stake in Charles’ monster season of 1,456 yards.

“Everybody has to do their job for him to spring 80 or 90 yards,” fullback Patrick DiMarco said.

Like DiMarco’s diving block on Charles’ 86-yard scoring run on the first play of the second half of last weekend’s home loss to the Colts.

“He’s a fun guy to block for, especially when you see No. 25 whizzing by you,” tight end Steve Maneri said.

Charles has joined a select circle of running backs with three 80-yard-plus touchdown runs in a career, and they’ve all happened this season. Tennessee’s Chris Johnson also has three 80-plus scoring runs this year and a NFL-best six in his career.

Two of Minnesota star Adrian Peterson’s three 80-yard scores have happened this season.

Three other running backs have three scoring runs of 80 yards or longer: Hall of Famers Barry Sanders, O.J. Simpson and Hugh McElhenny.

Something else about Charles’ season is historically notable and it involves levels of individual greatness and team ineptitude.

Charles’ rushing output this season ranks seventh in franchise history, and 100 yards against the Broncos would give him the fourth-best total.

But there’s also this: If the Chiefs lose Sunday, they’ll match the franchise’s worst record set in 2008.

How can an individual performance so good happen in a season so bad?

Start with necessity. An abysmal passing game that is ranked last in the AFC in quarterback rating and last in the NFL in passing yards forces the Chiefs to be more ground-oriented.

The team has an answer in Charles, the fifth-year pro and former sprinter from Texas who is one of league’s most talented backs.

But he can’t do it alone. Charles’ 226 rushing yards wasn’t enough to overcome the Colts, and the Chiefs became the first team in NFL history to rush for at least 350 yards in a loss.

If Charles reaches 1,500 yards this season and Denver prevails on Sunday, he’ll become the only running back — there are 81 in the 1,500-yard club entering this weekend — to play for a team that finished with as many as 14 losses.

Could this be the greatest individual season for the worst team? Probably not, but it would be part of the conversation.

The Seahawks defensive tackle Cortez Kennedy was chosen NFL defensive player of the year by the Associated Press in 1992 and his team finished 2-14.

The best player/worst team running back in league history to date is a toss-up between the Herschel Walker, who rushed for 1,514 yards for the 3-13 Cowboys in 1988, and Simpson, who led the NFL with 1,503 yards for the 2-12 Bills in 1976.

Other sports have contributed to the list. In 1987, outfielder Andre Dawson was chosen National League MVP for a Cubs team that finished last in its division.

Baseball may provide the best example of excellence in hopeless seasons when Phillies pitcher Steve Carlton won 27 games and had a 1.97 ERA for the 1972 Phillies, who finished 59-97.

That loss total was the same as the Royals in 2009, when Zack Greinke led the American League in ERA on his way to the Cy Young Award.

Kansas City also was the site of a record-setting individual season for a last-place NBA team. In 1972-73, the first season of the Kansas City-Omaha Kings, guard Nate Archibald became the only player in history to lead the league in scoring and assists.

The college game also produced excellence in team futility. Notre Dame’s Paul Hornung remains the only player to win the Heisman Trophy from a losing team. His Irish finished 2-8 in 1956.

LSU’s flashy Pete Maravich remains college basketball’s career scoring leader, and he averaged 43.8 and 44.2 points as a sophomore and junior in the late 1960s. But both teams finished with losing records in the Southeastern Conference.

As for Charles, Sunday presents a final opportunity for a team victory. But the way this season has unfolded, a stellar individual performance without a Chiefs’ victory is the more likely conclusion.

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