At various times over the past few years, the Kansas City Chiefs have tried to find a bit of thunder to pair with their lightning. Each time, all they really found was a whisper.
Thomas Jones, on the downside of his career. Peyton Hillis, a shell of his former self.
Rather than provide a complement to speedster Jamaal Charles, they merely offered unproductive carries. But at long last, the Chiefs appear to have finally found their bruising back in the form of Knile Davis, someone who can take the pressure of their All-Pro in a meaningful way.
"They're both explosive players," Chiefs coach Andy Reid said. "They are completely different players, but they are both explosive players. And that makes my job easy, just give them the ball."
Just like he did Monday night at Arrowhead Stadium.
After missing most of the previous two games with an ankle injury, Charles returned to the starting lineup against New England. He ran for 92 yards and a touchdown, and also caught a pair of touchdown passes, leading the suddenly resurgent Chiefs to a 41-14 rout.
But the return of Charles didn't signal the end of Davis, who had filled in admirably in his absence. He ran for 107 yards on 16 carries, his second straight game eclipsing the century mark.
"Coach Reid is a great offensive mind. He knows how to put us in the best situation to help our team win," said Charles, who has gone through several coaches during his time in Kansas City.
"Knile is starting to believe in himself and is starting to get comfortable," Charles added. "I'm happy for him that he's really finding his way in this game."
Charles has been finding his way for quite a while.
The former sprinter has 5,938 yards rushing to rank third in team history, and needs just 77 yards to pass Larry Johnson for second place. He needs 132 yards to surpass Priest Holmes for tops in the record book, a mark that wouldn't be out of the question on Sunday in San Francisco.
The way Charles has done it boils down to speed and shiftiness. He was an elite track athlete at Texas, and once harbored dreams of sprinting in the Olympics. But it's just not straight-line speed that makes him effective; he also has an uncanny ability to stop and start, and his jukes and spin moves on some hapless defender have resulted in countless highlights.
Davis, who was a standout at Arkansas, has the physical frame to simply run defenders over.
He also has elite speed, of course, and wins most races to the end zone. But at 5-foot-10, 227 pounds, Davis is a load to handle when he lowers his shoulder pads, and his tree-trunk thighs make it difficult to tackle him low. He has plenty of his own highlights, racking up John Madden affectionately called "YAC" — yards after contact.
"I think it gives defenses different looks," Chiefs quarterback Alex Smith said. "I think it keeps both those guys fresh, for sure. We ask a lot of Jamaal, you know, so it's nice to be able to rest him at time. I think Knile's play has deserved it, has warranted that."
That started late last season, when Charles and the rest of the Chiefs starters sat in their meaningless regular-season finale. It continued in the playoffs, when Charles was sidelined early on by a concussion. Davis ran hard before leaving the loss to Indianapolis with a knee injury.
Now, both of them are healthy and running at full speed.
"You keep throwing fast balls at the defense," Reis said. "You to have two fresh backs in the fourth quarter, and again, they do different things. You can do different things with them."
When they're both humming? It's a nightmare for the defense.
"They beat us like we stole something," Patriots defensive tackle Vince Wilfork said, referring to the two running backs but the rest of the Chiefs' well-oiled offense. "We knew it was going to be a tough game. They basically destroyed us."
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