Chiefs pass first next-man-up test as they move on from Hunt

Quarterback Patrick Mahomes congratulates running back Spencer Ware, who scored on a short touchdown run.
AP/Copyright The Associated Press. All rights reserved

KANSAS CITY, Mo. — The Kansas City Chiefs didn’t have much time between the moment Kareem Hunt walked off the practice field and the moment they boarded an airplane without him for their trip to Oakland.

It was about 24 hours in all.

Yet the stunning downfall of their top running back hardly set the Chiefs back when they took the field against the Raiders on Sunday.

Spencer Ware performed well starting in Hunt’s place, the Chiefs piled up 178 yards rushing — their second most all season — and Patrick Mahomes and the rest of the offense had another big game in a 40-33 victory that was never that close.

“In this league it moves fast. You have to make sure you’re ready for every single week,” Mahomes said. “I was glad to get back on the football field. We had been on a bye week after a loss, so to get out here and get a win against a team that you’ve had a historic rivalry with is always a good win.”

Especially given the circumstances.

The Chiefs had just concluded their final practice Friday when TMZ Sports posted the video of Hunt shoving and kicking a woman in a Cleveland hotel in February. In short order, Hunt was sent home from the facility, placed on the NFL’s exempt list, summoned back to the facility and ultimately released.

The move was as swift as it was stunning. And for many teams preparing to face a rival on the road, even one that has struggled as much as the Raiders, it could have been difficult to overcome.

Chiefs coach Andy Reid said he never considered that an option.

“You guys know me well enough that I’m not going to let certain things slide. I’m going to address them when they need to be addressed,” Reid said during a conference call Monday. “And then I bank on my locker room and the strength of my locker room, and they really stepped up on this.”

The Chiefs (10-2) didn’t have time to alter their game plan, so they basically stuck with it with Ware in the backfield. The only problem is that Ware took only about 10 percent of the first-team reps in practice last week, and backups Damien Williams and Darrel Williams took precisely none.

Yet with an assist from Mahomes, who scrambled for 52 yards, the Chiefs still did enough on the ground to keep the Oakland defense honest. That, in turn, allowed for Mahomes to throw for 295 yards and four touchdowns without an interception, his seventh game with at least four TD passes this season.

“I mean, that’s my brother,” Ware said of Hunt, “but the men in this circle, the men in the locker room, the organization, we all have one goal. That’s to win a Super Bowl. So we have to stay distraction-free, and I don’t have anything else to say about that.”

Reid acknowledged Monday that general manager Brett Veach had brought in a couple of running backs to provide depth. One of them expected to get a close look, Charcandrick West, is familiar with the system, having spent several seasons with the Chiefs before getting cut in training camp.

Yet the bulk of the carries will belong to Ware, who was supposed to be the starter last year before a knee injury in the preseason landed him on injured reserve.

And lest anyone think there will be a major drop-off, consider that Ware’s career average of 4.6 yards per carry is only a 10th-of-a-yard less than that of Hunt, and his ability to catch the ball out of the backfield is just as potent.

“He’s been doing it for a while now,” said tight end Travis Kelce, who had 168 yards receiving and two TD catches against Oakland. “He’s been a staple of this organization since he’s been here. He’s worked his tail off to be in the position that he is in. And he got back from an injury last year that set him back. He wasn’t allowed to be a part of what we were doing last year.”

He figures to be a big part of what the Chiefs hope is a Super Bowl push this year.

“The mindset of this team is whenever you get your opportunity, you make the most of it,” Mahomes said. “I feel like every single game someone else steps up. We kept our mind on that and playing football, the game we have loved since we were little kids, to keep this season going.”