As he was building a career-best 1,509-rushing-yard season in 2012, Jamaal Charles became the subject of milestone possibilities.
Was a 2,000-yard season in his future? Only seven have ever reached that plateau.
That Charles had crafted his monster year on a 2-14 team, one that would change leadership and presumably present an offense that would take even greater advantage of his skill set, only heightened the possibility of greater production.
But along came Andy Reid, and Charles’ rushing numbers decreased in 2013.
Yet Charles couldn’t have been more productive.
With 1,980 yards from scrimmage in 2013 — rushing and receiving — and 19 touchdowns, Charles logged the best regular season of his career and is the primary focus of the Indianapolis defense Saturday in the Chiefs-Colts wild-card playoff game.
Charles topped the AFC in rushing for a second straight year, with 1,287 yards. His 70 receptions are a career best and twice as many as he had last year. He’s the only player in the NFL to lead a team in rushing yards and receptions this season.
It’s been one of the most productive individual seasons in franchise history, and the numbers would have been even greater had Charles played in the Chiefs’ season finale at San Diego. He and several other starters were inactive for the game with the team’s playoff fate unaffected by the outcome.
“The guy just doesn’t come off the field,” Chiefs quarterback Alex Smith said. “He’s always doing something to help us. That’s pretty rare in the NFL. He prepares himself for all those different situations, and then when he gets out there, he’s a big-time playmaker.”
Earlier this week, Colts coach Chuck Pagano called Charles, “Public enemy No. 1,” and meant it in the most complimentary way.
The Colts should know. They took away nearly everything else the Chiefs threw at them in their regular-season victory at Arrowhead Stadium two weeks ago, except Charles. He rushed for 106 yards on 13 carries and logged the team’s lone touchdown on a 31-yard run.
Charles also caught five passes for 38 yards, a week after he caught eight balls for 195 yards and four touchdowns, plus a rushing score, at Oakland.
“Whatever you ask him to do, he can do it,” Colts linebacker Robert Mathis said. “And take it to the house on every play. He’s a problem and a half, so we have to keep our eyes on him at all times.”
A problem and a half may be the most accurate description of what Charles has become in Reid’s system.
Charles’ credentials as a running threat were beyond dispute. A third-round pick from Texas in 2008, he was a 1,000-yard rusher in his second season and was being groomed as the Chiefs’ next big thing in the backfield.
The Chiefs’ modern-era rushing tradition started with Priest Holmes, the touchdown machine who delivered three great years starting in 2001. That was followed by Larry Johnson, who topped 1,700 rushing yards in successive seasons.
The Chiefs not only didn’t miss a step with Charles, they got world-class faster — after all, he’s a former Big 12 sprinting champion. That speed was on full display in 2009, when Charles rushed for a franchise-record 259 yards in a game against the Broncos.
Last season, Charles moved into the conversation as one of the game’s best running backs. Among his eye-popping numbers were his yards per carry, which now stand at 5.6 for his career. In 2012, Charles also turned in three runs of 80 yards or longer. And he logged an 86-yard touchdown run on his way to a 226-yard day against the Colts last December.
But Reid’s offense doesn’t utilize a running back in the same way that Charles had previously been used. In Reid’s 14 seasons in Philadelphia, the Eagles had just six 1,000-yard rushers, and nobody rushed for more than Brian Westbrook’s 1,333 yards in 2007.
Reid helped pioneer the use of the running back in the passing game, first with Westbrook and later with LeSean McCoy.
In Westbrook’s big 2007 season, he also caught 90 passes. McCoy caught 78 in 2010.
So Charles knew precisely what to expect when Reid got the Chiefs job.
“You see it for yourself,” Charles said. “They utilize me by putting me in space, at wide receiver, slot, where I can catch the ball — screens, passes out of the backfield.
“I did that my rookie year, catching passes out of the backfield. They brought it back this year.”
In a much more effective way. At Oakland, Charles became the first running back in NFL history with four receiving touchdowns.
When the Colts talk about stopping the run, that’s only part of the chore as it applies to Charles.
“He’s the guy you have to take away,” Pagano said. “It starts with Jamaal.”