KANSAS CITY, Mo. — If Peyton Manning is indispensable, then Jamaal Charles is inimitable. Consider this: After seven weeks, Charles has accounted for 898 yards rushing and receiving, or 38.8 percent of the Chiefs’ entire offensive output.
Of the club’s 348 combined rushes and receptions, he’s racked up roughly half (49.1 percent) of them. Heading into the weekend, 27 of Charles’ 114 rushing attempts — 23.7 percent — had wound up as first downs, the fifth-highest total among NFL players with at least 80 carries.
“I know any time the ball is in my hands, I can make something happen,” said the Texas native, who totaled 86 rushing yards and 37 more receiving yards Sunday in a 17-16 win over the Houston Texans. “All I need is a little crease.”
That and a little pub. While the media universe orbits Manning and the Denver Broncos, Charles, at the age of 25, is quietly, quickly, stringing together an MVP case himself, the engine behind a 7-0 train that’s showing no signs of slowing down.
Through the season’s first seven games, Charles has collected at least 100 yards from scrimmage and a touchdown each and every week. That’s the paragon of consistency, the kind of reliability you can set a clock to. To put that number in perspective, only two men in NFL history have pulled the 100 yards-plus-a-score trick in seven consecutive weeks to open a season: O.J. Simpson with Buffalo in 1975 and Charles, right here, right now.
“I mean, it’s great getting records and making things happen,” Charles said of joining the Juice. “But I’m just glad that this team is 7-0 right now. I’m happy to be up there with some of the great players — that’s why I play this game, to be one of the best running backs.”
Oh, he’s been that. And more. Of the Chiefs’ 112 first downs through the franchise’s first six games, Charles has personally accounted for 42 of them, or 37.5 percent.
“I mean, he is our offense,” guard Geoff Schwartz said. “I mean, (when) we run the ball, (when) we pass the ball, a lot of it goes through him.”
Schwartz has gone to bat for some of the greats in his NFL career, starting with DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart in Carolina, then Adrian Peterson in Minnesota. But Charles — now Charles is something different. In a world of time-shares and backfield tandems, he’s the complete package.
“Those guys really weren’t as much a pass-catcher as Jamaal is,” Schwartz continued. “I mean, he can catch the ball, he can run in space. Those guys were more downhill runners, and we brought someone else on third down. So it’s super impressive. You don’t see a lot of backs that are able to do all that type of stuff.”
So many tools, so little time. Charles can make magic in space, like a bigger Darren Sproles. He can lower his pads and truck a defender, like a smaller Arian Foster. On first and second down, he hangs onto the ball and, with one cut, can turn the smallest crack in the line into a healthy gain.
“He just hits the hole so dang fast,” tight end Sean McGrath said. “He’s a blur … all he needs is a little bit, and he’s scooting through.”
On third down, he’s got the hands to convert critical swing passes and the guts and vision to pass protect when asked — just witness the cut block he laid Sunday on Texans linebacker Brian Cushing, injuring the big man’s left knee along the way.
“I’m not a dirty player, just doing my job,” Charles said later. “It’s a play I’m supposed to cut on. Sometimes, (the) defense just gets beat. It was never my intention to hurt Cush.”
Not on that play, anyway. Charles is out there to break ankles. He wants to destroy egos, not knees.
“I mean, I’d say it’s my best season I’ve had so far (health-wise),” he said.
He’s had more spectacular days. Hell, he’s had better ones, to be sure: A third-quarter fumble at the Chiefs’ 28 set up a Texans field goal that cut the lead to 14-13. And he admitted to completely botching a read-option play with about a minute left in the first half at the Houston 5, leaving Alex Smith alone in the backfield to fake a handoff … to himself.
“I went the wrong way,” Charles chuckled when asked about the play, which was so well-blocked up front that Smith, rather humorously, cradled the ball back into his chest and scored anyway. “Moving around, and all the different formations, been moving the whole day. And I forgot which way to go.”
But then he goes and collects another seven first downs. And when the Chiefs get the ball back with 4:04 left, needing to kill clock, it’s Charles who gets the rock on three of the next seven plays. It’s Charles who helps to wipe out the next 2:23, Charles who plays through a massive gash on his left shoulder and blisters on his feet.
“Nah, I’m not banged up,” Charles said. “Feeling good.”
“I don’t know about that,” Charles said, beaming. “I’m just going to continue to play football. Very blessed to get all the accolades, but at the end of the day, it’s a long season. I’ve still got to continue to stay consistent to the end of the season. And then I can be wherever people want to put me at.”
All he needs is a little crease.
You can follow Sean Keeler on Twitter @seankeeler or email him at email@example.com.