Chiefs’ Kareem Hunt gets team back on track vs Chargers
KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) Kareem Hunt only managed 2 yards on the Chiefs’ opening possession, which went three-and-out and gave the ball to the Los Angeles Chargers in the first quarter of their crucial AFC West test.
That was about the worst carry he had all game.
Worst drive the Chiefs had, too.
Hunt began rolling when the Chiefs got the ball back, ripping off four straight carries to net a pair of first downs, and eventually rolled up 155 yards and a touchdown. Throw in a game-high seven catches for 51 yards and another score, and it was easy to see why the Chiefs pulled away from the Chargers in a 30-13 victory Saturday night that gave them control of the division.
It was a superlative effort by the rookie running back, who’d burst onto the scene with five massive performances only to hit a midseason swoon, one that coincided with Kansas City’s team-wide struggles.
He was at his best against the Chargers. So were the Chiefs.
”It’s a great feeling. Honestly, we know how good of a team we can be,” Hunt said. ”We just need to keep taking it game by game and winning. Winning is the most important thing, and we know how big these games are now. We just need to treat every game like it’s a playoff game.”
Truth be told, the Chiefs (8-6) now have the luxury of resting a bit down the stretch. Their victory over Los Angeles gave them a sweep of the season series, and an important tiebreaker in the division race. So the only way Kansas City could miss out on a second straight AFC West title is by losing out and the Chargers or Raiders winning out.
”I just like winning and that’s the biggest thing,” Hunt said. ”It was a great team win.”
Sure, but it was also a great individual showing.
Hunt’s big night gave him 1,201 yards rushing, breaking the franchise record for a rookie of 1,121 set by the late Joe Delaney in 1981. Hunt also broke Delaney’s record for carries by a rookie with 242, and his sixth 100-yard game also broke the franchise rookie record.
With games left against Miami next week and Denver to finish the regular season, Hunt could make another dent in the Chiefs’ single-season rushing charts. He is currently 10th and needs 279 yards to pass Priest Holmes, Jamaal Charles and Christian Okoye for sixth.
Not bad for a stocky kid out of Toledo teams kept passing on until the third round.
”He’s such a special player in space,” Chiefs quarterback Alex Smith said. ”So strong, fast, great balance. You know, if you keep working hard, even if there’s a free hat one time, you cover up the other guys, and he has such a knack to make a guy miss.
”Guys want to block for him,” Smith said, ”because he works so hard. He has that mentality.”
One that the rest of the offense feeds off.
”He’s a big body running downhill right now,” Chiefs tight end Travis Kelce said. ”That’s going to be hard to stop for any defense we face. Having him on our side is a huge advantage.”
The struggles Hunt had through the middle part of the season were the result of defenses ganging up to stop him, and the offense getting stuck in mud. But the Chiefs have broken out of their funk the last two weeks, spreading things to create bigger running lanes.
It came just in time to face the Chargers, whom Hunt gashed for 172 yards in Week 3. When you add his performance Saturday night, he ran for 327 yards against Los Angeles this season – breaking a record set by Charles for most yardage against an opponent in a single season.
It’s not just the yards, either. Hunt has six touchdowns rushing to tie Mike Garrett for fourth most by a rookie in Chiefs history, and his nine total TDs are also fourth by a franchise rookie.
”Honestly, I set some early goals,” he said, ”and honestly, the biggest thing is to put the team in a winning position. Winning is the most important thing, and we know how big these games are now.”
For more NFL coverage: http://www.pro32.ap.org and http://www.twitter.com/AP-NFL