There is something so pure, so fun, so thrilling about watching Jamaal Charles play football. You are never uncertain about his intentions. About his mind. About whether this is important to him. You are never certain when he is about to do something so brilliant you will slap the person next to you. Did he just...?
Charles came to the NFL as something like an afterthought, which seems so silly now. The Chiefs drafted him in the third round in 2008. That was Carl Peterson's last draft, and it may have been his best, even as Glenn Dorsey flopped. The Chiefs took Branden Albert in the first round, Brandon Flowers in the second, and Brandon Carr in the fifth. Albert and Flowers made Pro Bowls. Carr was good enough to earn a huge contract from the Cowboys.
But Charles was the star. Even if it took the Chiefs a while to figure that out. They played him on special teams in the beginning, and even in Charles' second year, new coach Todd Haley left him off the active roster against Oakland. The Chiefs lost that game 13-10. Charles played every game after that, rushing for more than 1,000 yards and nearly six yards per attempt. The Chiefs discovered a star, almost in spite of themselves.
Charles has track speed, but a wrestler's toughness. He has a superstar's ability, but a practice squad player's commitment. He is good enough that he could be a diva and get away with it, but humble enough that he is constantly cited as one of the Chiefs' best teammates.
Part of what makes him so much fun to watch is the subtlety. He is blessed with obvious ability — speed and strength, most obviously — but his football genius isn't in the obvious. It's in his balance, his agility, his vision.
He gets nine yards, when you think he should've had two, because he breaks that tackle. Sometimes, he gets 60 yards when you think he should've had three, because he cuts back to an open lane that only he could've seen.
Injuries are as much a part of football as celebrations. Football people like to say their sport comes with a 100 percent injury rate. You never want to see someone get hurt, but there is something about Charles' ability and his personality that makes you particularly sympathetic.
He's done this once already. Tore his left knee in the second game of 2011 running into the Lions' mascot on the sideline in Detroit. He came back to rush for 1,509 yards for a 2-14 team the next year. He's always deserved better than what the Chiefs have been able to give him.
Now, he's out again. This time it's the right knee, and his injury is a massive downer for a team that looks lost and confused. The sight of him holding his knee and needing a cart to get off the field brought tears to at least one teammate's eyes. It ruined the Chiefs' day — they blew a 17-3 lead — and quite possibly the season along with it.
Everything is different now. An offense that already wasn't good enough just lost its best player. More will be asked of Alex Smith now, and of the offensive line. Some fans are already looking forward to the draft. This was all supposed to be so different. This is the third year Andy Reid has been the coach, and they are regressing. The third year John Dorsey has been the general manager, and the roster still has holes.
There is no telling what Charles will be like after this. He turns 30 next year, and history is unkind to running backs of a certain age. Medicine has advanced to the point that ACL surgery is routine, and the recovery usually strong, but at some point there is a limit. We have almost certainly already seen the best of Charles. That makes me sad.
I am not including the play where his right knee buckled here, because what's the point. Actually, you could ask me what the point is of doing this at all, and I would not have a good answer.
But before we start, a quick mention that there was some good in the game that I'm not getting to. Derrick Johnson, in particular. He made a few very nice tackles, using his speed but especially his smarts to run guys down. Justin Houston played the run well. Eric Berry was very good, probably the best he's been this season. Same with Tamba Hali.
Anyway, here are 10 plays that stood out to me, in chronological order:
First quarter, 9:10 left, third and 1 from the Chiefs' 29. Alex Smith could've seen Jason Avant break wide open at the top of the screen here. Instead, he boots an easy pass, giving Charles no shot, and ending the drive.
First quarter, 8:20 left, second and 11 from the Bears' 8. This is the Chiefs' best highlight of the day. Jaye Howard is having a monster year, and here he just rushes through the Bears' line like it's second-rate security at a dive bar. His eat-soup celebration thing is fitting, too, because he is going to be paid after this season, by someone.
Second quarter, 10:50 left, first and 10 from the Chiefs' 23. This is a pretty good encapsulation of Alex Smith's and the Chiefs' problems. Sort of looks downfield, but is very excited to check down, and it may have even been the right decision. Charles' timing may have been thrown off by Ben Grubbs running into him, but he still had about 10 yards of open field in front of him.
Would've been nice to see how that worked out, but Smith threw an awful, uncatchable ball on what should have been a very easy completion. This is the worst of Smith: when he can't even make the simple plays we're always told to appreciate more.
Second quarter, 6:35 left, second and 10 from the Bears' 31. Jamaal Charles in the open field. Look at the cut. Holy crap. Leaves Shea Mcclellan and Kyle Fuller grasping at a ghost. And then the acceleration to get around a very good downfield block by Frankie Hammond. An average running back gets eight yards here. A good one gets maybe 15. Charles got 26. I am sad.
OK, one more angle:
Second quarter, 4:58 left, third and 5 from the Chiefs' 38. I do not know the play call, and the angle here does not show what Smith sees or doesn't see downfield. But there is a full four seconds for Smith to get the ball away here, and 4.9 seconds before he's sacked. The offensive line isn't good. But not all sacks are created equal.
Fourth quarter, 8:45 left, second and 6 from the Chiefs' 48. Donald Stephenson gets blow'd by, and Knile Davis gets blow'd up. I think Jamaal Charles would've somehow gained nine yards here. I am sad.
Fourth quarter, 3:11 left, third and 6 from the Chiefs' 22. This is insane by Jay Cutler.
One more angle:
Fourth quarter, 1:03 left, third and 10 from the Chiefs' 37. If this is actually, seriously, for real pass interference, then I don't know how you're supposed to play defense.
Fourth quarter, 0:02 left, 66-yard field goal attempt. This was a terrible decision. After the game, Andy Reid justified this by saying Santos hit from this deep in practice. But Santos said that was with the wind. This was against it. The ball barely crossed the goal line, and was wide right. Santos never had a chance. This was a bad decision, putting a player in an impossible spot, and one that the team should've never been in anyway. You know, you could do much worse than this for a complete illustration of the 2015 Chiefs so far.