There were a few things Andy Reid noticed about Jamaal Charles right away.
Charles was handsome and charming, but oh so quiet. Game tape of Charles revealed a special running back, a guy who could reel off six yards per carry with ease. Reid saw a slender runner who sometimes appeared to glide as he ran around the edges of defenses.
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But what Reid and his new staff quickly realized was that Charles had become one of the NFL's best running backs through a grittiness that belied his off-field appearance and demeanor, or the film of his most dazzling runs.
"He's got this competitive toughness to him that is relentless," Reid said this week as the Chiefs prepared to play the Indianapolis Colts. "That is a very tough position to play in the National Football League. I mean very tough. You take a heck of a beating. On Mondays, it's tough to get out of bed. He handles all of that."
While Kansas City rode a stingy defense to nine consecutive wins to start the season, Charles and the offense have saved the Chiefs. In the past two games, Charles has a whopping 373 yards of offense – 170 rushing yards, 203 receiving yards – and seven touchdowns.
The Chiefs won both of those games, at Washington and at Oakland, to quell a three-game losing streak and move back into a tie with the Denver Broncos for the best record in the AFC. The Broncos own the head-to-head tie-breaker after sweeping the Chiefs, but Kansas City can win the division should the Broncos stumble in either of their final two games.
Charles' performance in the Chiefs' past two games has launched him into the conversation for league MVP, and it'd hard to argue that any skill position player has been more important to his team than Charles. There is hardly a play in the Chiefs offensive playbook that doesn't include Charles, who has become just as important in Kansas City's passing game as he is as a running back.
"There's so few guys that are out there on the field for all of the situations that Jamaal is out there. To have a guy who is so talented in the pass game that is still in there in short yardage and goal line just doesn't happen. It doesn't happen," quarterback Alex Smith said. "To be able to have him out there and be able to do so many things, he's got so many different tools, I think it's everybody's dream, quarterbacks, coaches."
It may have taken a while for the Chiefs offense to get rolling behind Smith and Charles, who had only one 100-yard rushing performance in the first 11 weeks of the season. But now he's on the verge of recording some of the best statistics of his career.
He has 65 catches -- 30 more than his previous career-high -- for 655 receiving yards and seven touchdowns. With 1,181 rushing yards, Charles has run for more than 1,000 yards in four of the past five seasons. It could be five-for-five if not for the ACL injury he suffered early in the 2011 season.
Charles said the injury was career-changing, if only because it gave him an added intensity when he returned healthy last year. Charles ran for more than 1,500 yards last year – one of the few bright spots for the 2-14 Chiefs.
"I just took a lesson from being hurt. I just never take anything for granted because you never want to miss an opportunity that you never get back. You never gain a step on being hurt," Charles said. "People forget about you, especially when you get hurt.
"I just take a lot from when I tore my ACL. I know how to approach things differently and never take for granted who I am today."
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