It was not a triumphant return for Jamaal Charles.
The Chiefs’ career rushing leader had been aching to return to the field. And some 51 weeks after tearing his ACL, Charles finally got back into the game on Sunday.
But the Chiefs were steamrolled 43-14, and Charles had little to do with the contest after the first few minutes.
Charles said the original idea was to return after the bye week when the Chiefs play at Oakland on Oct. 16.
Premium content for only $0.99
For the most comprehensive local coverage, subscribe today.
But an injury to Charcandrick West changed the timetable. West wasn’t active for Sunday’s game.
“That’s why they dressed me up,” Charles said. “But Charcandrick was hurt. I was the next person up. That’s how the game plan went.”
Charles entered on the game’s third snap and flared from the backfield to take a pass, but the throw from Alex Smith was just beyond Charles’ grasp.
On the Chiefs’ third series, Charles burrowed through a hole for a 6-yard gain.
He was on the field for a few more plays and ran the ball one more time for a 1-yard gain. But the rain came down with more emphasis, turning the turf soggy. With the exception of a few late plays, the Chiefs decided Charles had seen enough. Actually the game dictated that call.
“The game, we just got behind so far, and the plays we had in for me went out,” Charles said.
Charles spent most the rest of the game standing next to coaches or sitting on the bench with the other running backs.
“I feel like I’m 100 percent,” Charles said. “The plan was to put me in the game more. I knew I wasn’t going to start. It was to get my feet wet again.”
Earlier in the day, word started to spread that the Chiefs were planning to use Charles for 10-15 snaps. His presence figured to boost a Chiefs offense that would be without West.
The running back crew had a tough night. Starter Spencer Ware fumbled away the Chiefs’ first snap of their second possession, leading to the Steelers’ first touchdown. The Chiefs’ longest run of the first half was Charles’ attempt.
Charles wasn’t the only running back in the game making his season debut. The Steelers’ Le’Veon Bell sat out the first three games for violating the league’s substance abuse policy.
Bell’s return to action was seamless. Steelers Coach Mike Tomlin said he’d toss Bell right back into the mix, and he did. Bell was especially effective in the second half with the Steelers’ nursing their big lead. He finished with 18 carries for 144 yards.
The Chiefs were unlikely to get that kind of production from Charles. He spent the first three weeks of training camp on the physically unable to perform list. When the regular season opened, Charles was getting closer, but he was on the inactive list each of the first three weeks.
The Chiefs were getting production from the position, especially from Ware, who ranked among the NFL leaders in yards from scrimmage.
But Charles owns the NFL record for career rushing yards per attempt (5.47), and when healthy has been the Chiefs’ most dynamic offensive player in the Andy Reid offense. He came into the game with more touchdowns scored since 2013 than any other player — 38 — despite missing 14 games because of the knee injury.
With two touchdowns on Sunday, Steelers wide receiver Antonio Brown caught Charles in that department, but the production emphasizes Charles’ value to the Chiefs.