After missing nearly two months because of a high ankle sprain, Chiefs safety Eric Berry finally returned to the field Sunday, albeit in an unusual role — as a backup.
Berry, a three-time Pro Bowler, did not start with the base defense, as the duo of Ron Parker and Husain Abdullah — each of whom has played significant roles in anchoring the league's best pass defense — continued to patrol the middle of the field.
But when the Chiefs went to their nickel or dime subpackages, Berry came right in to play safety while Parker shifted back to corner alongside starters Phillip Gaines and Sean Smith.
Berry, 25, ended up logging several snaps and finished with five tackles. And though he didn't make any of the impact plays he's become known for — interceptions, sacks and fumble recoveries — his teammates say his presence on the field was felt.
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“It's a big deal because he's the leader of this defense,” Parker said. “Just having him out there gives everybody a boost of energy.”
“It felt like he was our sixth man off the bench for us today,” Smith said. “Every time he comes in for little spurts, we just know something good is about to happen.”
Berry, for his part, said he was OK coming off the bench. The Chiefs used him all over, as he played in the box and deep.
“I ain’t tripping, bro,” Berry said. “As long as I’m doing my part, as long as we’re getting it in, I have no problem. We got a W today, so that’s all that matters.”
Berry, who hasn't spoken to reporters since he got hurt due to team policy, said the time he spent on the sideline made him appreciate what the Chiefs accomplished Sunday.
“Seeing them ball out on the field and make plays while I couldn’t be out there to help them, it was tough to watch,” Berry said.
Berry's teammates could vouch for that. Several said they could tell how much he missed being out there with them during his absence.
“I could see it all over his face without him even speaking,” Parker said. “Every week he was not there, it hurt him. He wanted to be out there with the guys, be out there fighting.
“I'm glad he was able to go out there with us and get this win.”
Berry's mobility was tested early. On the Jets' first drive, Berry played the intermediate third on the right side of the field on third and 7 when he had to beat elusive Jets quarterback Michael Vick the sideline on a scramble. He caught up to Vick just in time, as Vick ran out of bounds a yard short of the first down.
“I felt fast,” Berry said. “The thing is I haven’t been playing football too much. I had this week of practice and I just had to go back to what I learned, all the different experiences I had to go back and make plays.”
Berry's presence allowed defensive coordinator Bob Sutton to mix and match freely in the secondary in their subpackages. Abdullah, Berry and Parker all have experience in man coverage and playing single-high safety, and all have shown the ability to blitz or play around the line of scrimmage.
“It's like we're playing a video game out there,” Smith said. “We just mix and match and throw guys around. I just think it speaks volumes of how versatile we are in the secondary as whole. We don't call a lot out there, but what we do call, we call it enough that everybody should know the other guy's job. We only run a few plays, we just do it well.”
That kind of versatility is important because it gives the Chiefs’ scheme versatility in one-on-one matchups and helps them disguise plays before the snap.
“Like a machine with replaceable parts,” Abdullah said. “We have a bunch of guys that can play a bunch of different positions … so even when people try to study us and break us down, it's like you've got (No.) 29 here, 38 here, 39 there and you're like, you can't get a bead on them because they're moving around. It can pay dividends.”
So can the return of Berry, though it remains unclear how long Berry will be coming off the bench, especially if coach Andy Reid continues to be coy with how he plans on using him.
“Anytime you can get an All-Pro back, it makes a difference,” Abdullah said. “We can't wait until he starts making those Eric Berry plays he's used to making.”