If a bye week was time for the Chiefs to reassess and revamp what they’d been doing, it also represented a long time between games to dwell on their disturbing 43-14 meltdown at Pittsburgh.
And that might have been a particularly acute feeling for running back Spencer Ware.
His third fumble in three games was pivotal in the early dynamics of the Pittsburgh game, and he also figured to have his playing time radically reduced on Sunday at Oakland because of the return of an apparently fully healthy Jamaal Charles.
Ware shrugged off any such nonsense after uncorking a career-high 131 yards on 24 carries in a 26-10 victory that had earmarks of a reset for the Chiefs, who had been awful in their two previous road games.
None of that had especially weighed on him, he insisted at his locker after being congratulated by Chiefs chairman Clark Hunt.
All he had to do was “get back to the fundamentals,” he added, and so that’s what he did.
But quarterback Alex Smith knows better than what Ware’s unfazed façade shows.
“I think you probably couldn’t have painted a better picture for him to bounce back …” said Smith, who perhaps knew the feeling himself after completing 19 of 22 passes Sunday after his own subpar outing against the Steelers.
Any teammate who cares, added Smith, “They wear it, right? And Spence is the epitome of that, a guy who cares so much about his team, about holding up his end. No question, everybody sees it.
“The thing that was most encouraging today was the way he ran: never tiptoeing, not passive, even when it was wet and rainy. To kind of put (the fumbles) behind him and run really, really hard and physical today is one of the reasons we won.”
But it also might have been a glimpse at something broader and more substantial for what’s to come for the Chiefs, who made more sparing use of Charles than might have been expected in his first full game back at what is believed to be 100 percent after being lost for most of the 2015 season with a torn ACL.
Charles had a few exhilarating moments, including a churning six-yard run with nothing there to set up Ware’s two-yard touchdown; a 17-yard run and a four-yard TD of his own.
No doubt he will soon get more than the 11 touches (nine runs, two catches) he had on Sunday.
But when asked about Charles’ return, Smith spoke to something that previously has been speculated about but couldn’t be seen in tangible form before Charles actually was back.
“It was a little taste, as we get going here, to have that kind of depth at the running back position; they can keep each other fresh and spell each other,” Smith said, apparently also referring to Charcandrick West. “They all have different strengths and feed off each other.
“That’s what you can get to, those guys feeding off each other and making the most of their opportunities.”
For more than a year, coach Andy Reid has been saying you can’t simply replace Charles because he considers him a future NFL Hall of Fame player.
The idea was that had to get done by a committee that could make a composite, and that worked remarkably for most of last season … but seemed to have ebbed during a 2-2 start that was marked by generally brutal offense.
Charles’ versatility at his best adds an entirely different dimension, one that helps the Chiefs play to the mixed and balanced offensive philosophy they tout.
They absolutely needed him back.
But it’s intriguing to consider how this all might look, including two-back sets featuring Charles and Ware we saw a few times on Sunday, if Charles now is more part of a committee than just The Man.
“Having them both out there, that’s a win-win, I think,” Reid said. “They’re completely different players, and they both did a nice job.”
It’s too soon, naturally, to know just how the Chiefs will apply this hybrid power or how it will evolve over time.
But one element of all this that you can bank on: The concept won’t create dissension among the trio of backs.
Charles is a nurturing presence to Ware and West, and they revere him.
“When he wasn’t (playing), he was carrying us vocally,” Ware said. “And now he’s back and we’re excited. And we’re on the move.”
When he was asked if his relatively few touches Sunday was injury-related, Charles said he was 100 percent but promptly added, “My role is to be who I am when I step on the field” and leave the rest to Reid.
As for Ware, he said, the idea is to “just be there for him. Be a teammate, be a friend, like a big brother … He’s a big part of the team, and I understand that he’s the starter.”
That seems likely to change before long, but Ware reminded on Sunday that he adds depth that can be instrumental for the Chiefs … even with Charles back on the scene.