Without star Jamaal Charles, the Kansas City Chiefs must find a way to prevent their season from completely spiraling out of control.
They’ll look to avoid a fifth straight defeat Sunday against a Minnesota Vikings team that’s trying to continue its recent success at home.
Charles’ season ended in the third quarter last Sunday when he tore the ACL in his right knee while making a cut. The four-time Pro Bowler averaged 5.1 yards per carry while rushing for 364 and caught 21 passes for 177 this season. His five touchdowns have accounted for half of the Chiefs’ offensive total.
"It brought tears to my eyes. It’s heartbreaking," teammate Charcandrick West said of seeing Charles go down.
Kansas City (1-4) led 17-3 against Chicago when Charles was hurt, but fell 18-17. While the Chiefs face a difficult challenge the rest of the season without their main offensive threat, the immediate task is to avoid losing five in a row for the first time since 2012’s 2-14 season.
"You know you’re not going to replace Jamaal," coach Andy Reid said. "He’s one of the best. Really, when it’s all said and done, one of the best in the history of the game.
"We all need to pick it, right now. Raise the level."
Second-year back West and Knile Davis are expected to share the majority of the backfield duties while versatile receiver De’Anthony Thomas also could receive some carries. Davis topped 100 rushing yards in back-to-back games last season but has 11 attempts for 27 and a TD in 2015. All of West’s 48 career yards on 12 carries came in the last two weeks.
"They told us, me and Knile, that we’re both going to play. We both have to be ready to step up," West said. "We knew our big brother went down, so it’s time to step up."
Replacing Charles isn’t the only problem facing a Kansas City offense that’s scored one TD in the last two weeks.
Alex Smith was 16 of 30 for a season-low 181 yards and recorded that lone touchdown pass to Thomas last Sunday. He also was sacked three times to raise his total to 21 — second most in the NFL.
"It’s not fun to be out there playing like that. We know we’re so much better than that," Smith said.
A defense that allowed at least 31 points in the previous three weeks was stout until the Bears scored touchdowns on their final two drives.
"For me, there are two choices: I mean, yeah, you can let this get to you," Smith added. "We have a lot of football left. You can get sidetracked, you can get distracted, you can make excuses. Or we can all look internally, we can all stay together and we can fight."
The fight continues at Minnesota, where the Vikings (2-2) come out of their bye week looking for a sixth consecutive home victory. Both of their wins this season have come at TCF Bank Stadium, and they’ve had an extra week to regroup from falling 23-20 at Denver on Oct. 4.
Adrian Peterson ran for 81 yards and a TD on 16 carries, Mike Wallace set season highs with eight receptions for 83 yards and the Vikings picked off Peyton Manning twice, but Teddy Bridgewater was sacked seven times and lost a fumble on the final one with 35 seconds remaining.
"We still have room to grow," said Peterson, second in the league with 93.0 rushing yards per game. "I look back and there were some missed opportunities that you can’t have back. A lot to look back on. I feel like we’re OK. We’ll be good."
Minnesota’s defense has been solid while ranking sixth in points allowed (18.3), yielding a total of 30 in home wins over Detroit and San Diego.
The Vikings will head into this one with a different man in the middle of the defense, though. Minnesota traded starting middle linebacker Gerald Hodges to San Francisco last week for backup center Nick Easton and a sixth-round draft choice. The development of rookie linebacker Eric Kendricks made Hodges expendable.
"Sometimes these are difficult decisions, but when you have depth and youth at a position, and you can make a move from a business perspective on getting your team better when you have extra pieces to move," general manager Rick Spielman said. "I think you always have to look at those."
The Vikings might need to utilize their depth at receiver. Charles Johnson (ribs) is listed as questionable while Wallace (knee), who leads the team with 20 catches, and Jarius Wright (hand) are probable.
No other Minnesota wideout has more than eight receptions.
Kansas City has won the last two meetings with the Vikings, most recently 22-17 on Oct. 2, 2011.