KANSAS CITY, Mo. - Pro Bowl running back Jamaal Charles was unavailable - no problem!
His replacement Charcandrick West was hobbled and in the locker room - big deal!
The former No. 2 running back on the Kansas City Chiefs roster, Knile Davis, was not dressed, a healthy scratch for the second consecutive game - so what!
The Chiefs do not have a running back by committee. They have a plug-and-play ground game, and it was never more evident than in their 33-3 victory over the Chargers on Sunday in San Diego. When West left the game, Andy Reid simply plugged in his No. 3 running back and it was Spencer Ware's turn in the spotlight.
Spencer who? The Louisiana native spent the first six games of the 2015 season on the Chiefs practice squad, after going through the preseason with the club. They released him on the final NFL cutdown and Ware went unclaimed and unsigned, before returning to Kansas City. When Charles went down with his torn ACL in the season's fifth game, that's what brought Ware to the active roster.
Given his chance, the 230-pound Ware stepped into the halfback role against the Chargers and he ran 11 times for 96 yards and two touchdowns and caught one pass for five yards. He set up one of those touchdowns with a 52-yard run, the longest rushing play of the season for the Chiefs.
"He's a powerful kid and he's shown us the caliber of what we saw in practice and the preseason," Reid said of Ware. "We were down a few different spots and guys stepped in and did a nice job."
His performance in San Diego helped the Chiefs push their winning streak to four games with the thrashing of the Chargers. The victory got the Chiefs back to the .500 mark for the 2015 season. Now 5-5, they are headed back home to Arrowhead Stadium to play the Buffalo Bills next Sunday.
On Oct. 18, the Chiefs were 1-5 after losing 16-10 to Minnesota. Charles had gone down the week before and there was very definitely a feeling of doom among Chiefs followers. But West stepped in and began producing and the offense was able to stay balanced. That helped the defense, and that side of the ball also started producing at its expected level.
It's taken no-name players like West and Ware to help push the team. Ware entered the NFL as a sixth-round selection (No. 194) by Seattle in the 2013 NFL Draft. He was on the field for the Seahawks' first two games that Super Bowl season, before going out with an ankle injury. Ware was released at end of the 2014 training camp and sat out the entire season.
He signed with the Chiefs at the end of 2014 season. In the offseason program, training camp and preseason, Ware caught the attention of Reid, general manager John Dorsey and the coaching staff with his ability to play both fullback and halfback. He was promoted on Oct. 13 to the 53-man roster.
"He's smart; he went to LSU as a quarterback," Reid said of Ware. "He's got the aptitude part, he can handle stuff. That's why we can play him at tailback and fullback. He understands the passing game, he's got good hands and he's a good athlete. He's not the fastest guy in the world, but he is definitely a powerful, powerful guy. He's a tough, tough guy."
REPORT CARD VS. CHARGERS
PASSING OFFENSE: B. It was a virtuoso game-manager performance against San Diego by quarterback Alex Smith. He completed 80 percent of his passes (20 of 25), for an average of 10 yards per attempt. Smith did not throw a touchdown pass, but he also did not throw an interception and has now gone 253 passes without throwing one to the other team. He connected with eight different receivers, with five catching passes of 20 yards or more. Pass protection was so-so, as Smith went down three times and was forced out of the pocket four or five other times.
RUSHING OFFENSE: A. The Chiefs have convinced themselves that no matter who carries the ball for them, they are going to be successful. Jamaal Charles is lost for the season, but Charcandrick West steps up and produces. West leaves in the second half against San Diego with a hamstring injury and Spencer Ware jumps in and dominates the fourth quarter with 83 of his 96 yards coming in the final 15 minutes. Ware also added a pair of touchdown runs and a 52-yard play, the longest run of the season for the Chiefs.
PASS DEFENSE: A. San Diego quarterback Philip Rivers was never comfortable throwing the ball on Sunday. The Chiefs had him moving his feet and they continually compressed the pocket against the Chargers battered offensive line. Rivers tried everything, with plenty of screen passes and quite a few long throws trying to stretch the Kansas City coverage. One of those screen pass attempts went the other way with a 17-yard interception return for a touchdown by outside linebacker Justin Houston. On the other side of the defense, outside linebacker Tamba Hali tormented the Chargers all day, picking up two sacks. So bad were things that television cameras caught Rivers and tight end Antonio Gates in a verbal conflict on the sideline after an offensive possession.
RUSH DEFENSE: A. The Chargers did not come into the game as one of the NFL's better running teams, and they certainly didn't get well against the Chiefs. Led by Melvin Gordon, San Diego had 52 yards on 25 carries, a 2.1-yard average. Their longest run against the Kansas City defense was 10 yards. Through the first half and into the third quarter, the score was not out of hand and San Diego tried to stay balanced on their offensive play calls. But they were not able to generate any scoring opportunities
SPECIAL TEAMS: B. While it was a quiet afternoon for the Chiefs in the kicking game, they got the solid contributions they've come to expect from punter Dustin Colquitt and kicker Cairo Santos. Colquitt had a new average of 40.6 yards, but more importantly four of his five punts landed inside the 20-yard line. Santos did miss an elongated due to penalty extra point, but he made both of his field-goal attempts and booted six of seven kickoffs into the end zone, with five not returned. The Chiefs lost returner De'Anthony Thomas early in the game to a concussion and ended up using starting wide receiver Jeremy Maclin to handle the punt returns. He only returned two of six chances for 13 yards. San Diego had nothing in the return game.
COACHING: A. If there was a point back in mid-October where Andy Reid thought the Chiefs season was headed for the NFL landfill, he did not share that sentiment with anyone in the Kansas City locker room. The players say his calm handling of their ugly 1-5 start convinced them they could still make something of their 2015 season. They've now won four in a row and have moved their record to 5-5 and again they are part of the picture for the AFC playoffs. Reid and his coaching staff have taken what they have and built a mindset where the Chiefs believe they are good as any team in the league.