KANSAS CITY, Mo. — In the moments after a disheartening loss to Tennessee to open the season, Chiefs coach Andy Reid seemed at a loss for why All-Pro running back Jamaal Charles went virtually unused.
Charles carried the ball on the first two plays of the game, and then caught a 14-yard swing pass from quarterback Alex Smith for a first down. But during the rest of Sunday’s game, Charles got his hands on the ball only eight times as the Kansas City offense sputtered and backfired.
"I want to see the ball more and coach knows that," Charles said long after the game, when the locker room had largely cleared out of players and mostly equipment staff remained.
He finished with seven carries for 19 yards and four catches for 15 yards, which means those final eight touches? They netted a whopping 11 yards from scrimmage.
Reid was willing to take the blame for it, too.
"Not giving 25 the ball more than seven times is negligence on my part," he said Monday as the Chiefs prepared for this weekend’s trip to Denver.
Especially considering the way the game was shaking out.
The Chiefs and Titans were close throughout the first half, and it should have been a 7-3 lead at the break had Kansas City not thrown an ill-advised pass that was picked off in the waning minutes. Tennessee went on to kick a field goal just before halftime to extend its lead.
Even then, it was a one-possession game, the kind where using Charles would have made sense. But instead, Smith wound up throwing the ball 35 times, completing only 19 of them for 202 yards while getting picked off three times. The Titans took advantage of all the miscues by Kansas City, putting the game away with 20 unanswered points.
Meanwhile, the Chiefs were forced to play without top wide receiver Dwayne Bowe, who was serving a one-game suspension. So it would have made even more sense to get the ball in the hands of Charles, the biggest game-breaker left on an offense perilously devoid of big-play threats.
"We just failed," Smith said, "failed to get him the ball. Absolutely. One of our biggest playmakers, if not the biggest playmaker. Certainly need to get him involved more. That’s on all of us, though. For me, I’m kind of worried about executing and doing my job."
Reid said that Tennessee’s game plan had much to do with it.
"They primarily went with a cover-3 look or a cover-4 with a cheat safety, both of which are good run-stopping coverages," he explained. "And then they played gaps — they were cheating gaps. It wasn’t anything that should have kept us off the run game as much."
Indeed, Titans defensive tackle Jurrell Casey said that stopping Charles was the key.
"We knew they were going to come out and run the ball," he said. "Our heart was to stop the run. Our coaches talked about it all week. It was going to be down to us up front to be out there and win this game for us. We held him under 100 yards and that’s what we had our minds set on."
The seven attempts were the fewest for Charles since Oct. 28, 2012, when he toted the ball five times in a game against Oakland. And his yardage total was the smallest since Dec. 12 of the same season, when he carried nine times for 10 yards in the return game against the Raiders. That was the same season in which the Chiefs went 2-14 and coach Romeo Crennel was fired.
"Whatever the game plan is, I just go with it," Charles said, choosing to take the high road but also making it clear: "I definitely want the ball in my hands in every situation."
After all, that was the case most of last season.
Charles ran for 1,287 yards and a career-best 12 touchdowns, and caught 70 passes for 693 yards and seven more scores. He accounted for nearly 37 percent of the offense as the Chiefs went 11-5 and reached the playoffs, making him arguably the most indispensable player in the NFL.
That’s also why the Chiefs rewarded him just prior to training camp with a two-year contract extension that tacked an additional $18.1 million onto his deal.
"It’s a long season, just one game. We have a long way to go," Charles said. "We can get worse or we can get good. My job is to get the team good."