Every member of the Chiefs felt the loss when linebacker Jovan Belcher committed murder-suicide three weeks ago.
Running back Jamaal Charles was hit by, in coach Romeo Crennel’s words, a “double-whammy.” Charles lost a teammate, and his wife, Whitney, lost a cousin — Belcher’s slain girlfriend, Kasandra Perkins.
But Charles, in his first extended public comments since the events of Dec. 1, said he was never distracted from his preparation or his play on game day. He rushed for more than 100 yards in two of the three games since then.
“You’ve been seeing me playing every Sunday,” Charles said. “You tell me. I’ve been playing football every Sunday. You see I’m going out there playing football.”
Charles restricted his comments to football on Thursday, preferring not to comment on Belcher.
Coming off knee surgery after he tore his ACL in the second game of last season, Charles set 1,000 yards as his personal goal for this season. He went over that on Dec. 2 in the Chiefs’ 27-21 win over Carolina, the day after Belcher killed Perkins and then himself.
At that point, the Chiefs had four games left, and he recalculated his goal to 1,500 yards. Having gone over 100 yards in three of the previous four games at that point, the goal looked reasonable.
But he was held to just 10 rushing yards against Oakland last week, ending reasonable hopes. Charles has 1,230 yards, good for second in the AFC behind Houston’s Arian Foster and sixth in the NFL.
“When I first touched 1,000 yards for the season, that was in my mind, like, ‘Wow, I really made it there,’ ” Charles said. “We had (four) games left and I was like, I can really get a lot more yards. Now we’ve got two more games and I’m trying to push my team and my linemen to help me finish strong.”
The next big step for Charles is next week’s announcement of the Pro Bowl teams. Charles finished fourth in fan voting behind Foster, Baltimore’s Ray Rice and New England’s Stevan Ridley. But fan voting counts only as part of the final total.
Charles made his only Pro Bowl after the 2010 season, when he rushed for a career-high 1,467 yards.
“If I make the Pro Bowl …it will probably be the best feeling I felt this whole month, this whole year,” Charles said. “That would mean a lot. But at the same time, I’m just blessed to stay healthy.”
A Pro Bowl selection would further validate Charles’ comeback from the knee injury as a success.
“But I wouldn’t be disappointed,” Charles said. “Last year, I didn’t play football at all. This year, I got a chance to play football again. That’s the most important thing to me.
“A lot of people didn’t think I’d be my own self. A lot of people didn’t think I would rush for 1,000 yards, carry the load. I feel I proved people wrong.”
Despite his success, Charles hasn’t been able to carry the Chiefs to anything better than a 2-12 record. Their final two games, on Sunday against Indianapolis at Arrowhead Stadium or the following week against the Broncos in Denver, will be played against teams that will probably play in the postseason or have already clinched a playoff spot.
So they’re staring squarely at 2-14 when it’s over, a number that likely wouldn’t be good enough to save the job of coach Romeo Crennel.
“It’s been great,” Charles said of playing for Crennel. “He’s a great coach. I guess he didn’t have the opportunity to do what he wanted to do this year. We didn’t have success as a team to back him up as a coach. The opportunity I’m saying is the team, the (lack of) success we’re having with a losing record. We didn’t back that up for him. It looks bad. We’re 2-12 right now. The record speaks for itself.
“I’m trying to win our last two games and finish strong, especially the last game at home to finish out the right way, with a win.”