Vahe Gregorian

Injury concerns continue to mount for Chiefs in road loss to Broncos

Chiefs running back Jamaal Charles (25) left Sunday’s game with an ankle injury after this two-yard run in the first quarter against the Broncos. Charles did not return, and the Chiefs lost 24-17.
Chiefs running back Jamaal Charles (25) left Sunday’s game with an ankle injury after this two-yard run in the first quarter against the Broncos. Charles did not return, and the Chiefs lost 24-17. The Kansas City Star

Injuries are “the way of the league, man,” as new Chiefs defensive end Kevin Vickerson put it.

Or they’re “just the sport we play,” running back Knile Davis said.

Just the same, a virtual epidemic seized the Chiefs a week ago. Now it’s bordering on the absurd, particularly considering who the sidelined are:

Already down five first-teamers, including star linebacker Derrick Johnson (and suspended offensive tackle Donald Stephenson), the Chiefs on Sunday suddenly were relegated to playing most of the game against Denver without running back Jamaal Charles and safety Eric Berry.

So in a game the Chiefs already figured to get clobbered in, Charles and Berry’s sprained ankles meant they were down seven starters.

And it was eight men out, more than a third of the lineup, if you count semi-starter De’Anthony Thomas, sidelined again because of a hamstring injury.

Even poker-faced coach Andy Reid made a brief concession to this excess, flashing a knowing grin before answering a question about that impact.

Out of this chaos, though, came a certain encouraging order.

Depleted as they were, the Chiefs mustered an energized 24-17 loss that boiled down to one measly play at game’s end.

A week after their jarring 26-10 submission to Tennessee, the Chiefs conjured a reminder that the season actually remains to be defined.

They also revived faith in how they’re the girding up the infrastructure in year two of the new regime.

How else can you account for being so diminished with injuries and going on the road to nearly upend the defending AFC champion that seemed to become more complete in the offseason?

“Well, we have a few injuries. But we don’t slow down on that,” Reid said. “We know they’re good football players.

“We also know we have some good football players that are playing behind them.”

Those words might have been uttered right out of Reid’s automatic pilot gear, of course. And they would have clanged hollow if the game had played out differently.

But this was a perception-altering loss for the Chiefs, who played so miserably in the opener against Tennessee that the prognosis for the season looked utterly bleak.

And their rejuvenated game hinged in part on spare parts.

“Everybody played with heart,” said Davis, who rushed for 79 yards and two touchdowns in 22 carries and led the Chiefs with six receptions. “And when you play like that, you can move mountains.”

Or at least offset an avalanche.

Not only in terms of the total number of players out, but their context in the broader scheme:

Two offensive linemen (Stephenson and Jeff Allen); two linebackers (Johnson and Joe Mays), one defensive lineman (Mike DeVito) … and then Charles and Berry.

It’s almost impossible to overstate the significance of playing without those two.

Berry “is the leader of the defense,” linebacker Justin Houston said. “He keeps everybody going, takes care of everything in the secondary.”

Most of the snaps in his place went to oft-maligned cornerback Ron Parker, who actually appeared more comfortable at safety and led the team with seven tackles.

“I wasn’t really expecting for that to happen, but I got comfortable and got in a little zone and got to feeling good back there,” said Parker, later adding, “You’ve just got to prepare like you never know what’s going to happen.

“In the NFL, it’s a crazy game. You might be down this week, and then next week you might be the superstar.”

Speaking of superstars, depending on how you define it, Charles either is one or is the closest thing the Chiefs have to it with nearly 6,000 career rushing yards and almost 2,000 career receiving yards.

“He’s just such a unique guy,” quarterback Alex Smith said. “There are certain things that he does that a lot of backs can’t do.”

If his versatility is unquestioned, though, his durability is starting to look like another matter.

There’s no doubt about his sheer toughness, of course, and it’s not as if he had any real need to play in the preseason.

But since suffering what was called a freak foot injury as he was moving out of the training camp dorm in St. Joseph, Charles carried three times in preseason … then just seven times for 19 yards in the opener.

So it’s easy to wonder if he was fully healthy for that opener, and then he lasted only two carries for four yards Sunday.

That’s not a lot of return on busting the bank for his contract extension.

This could just be a bad-luck hiccup for Charles and the Chiefs, of course.

But it’s also part of the testimony to how fickle, fleeting and fragile anyone’s health is in football.

At least for one improbable Sunday, though, the Chiefs demonstrated they have the resilience and depth to sustain major losses. That’s a vital step forward, loss or not.

To reach Vahe Gregorian, call 816-234-4868 or send email to vgregorian@kcstar.com. Follow him on Twitter: @vgregorian. For previous columns, go to KansasCity.com.

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