By the time the Kansas City Chiefs failed to get into the end zone on fourth down, trailing by a touchdown in Denver, they weren't just on the brink of another loss.
They were also playing without seven starters — nearly a third of their offense and defense.
Running back Jamaal Charles and safety Eric Berry, a pair of Pro Bowl players and arguably the most vital pieces on their respective sides of the ball, were the latest to go down. Charles left after just two carries. Berry followed him to the locker room a short while later.
X-rays on both came back negative, but Chiefs coach Andy Reid said he's uncertain whether either of them will be available for Sunday's game in Miami.
"We'll see," Reid said. "We'll see."
Charles appears to have the more serious issue, a high ankle sprain that tends to take longer to heal. Berry has a more common sprain, though it's to the same area he hurt in training camp.
The loss of Charles and Berry means the hard-luck Chiefs (0-2) are down seven starters to injuries and suspensions. Those seven players have combined to start 355 games, play in 492 games and appear in nine Pro Bowls over 43-plus seasons in the NFL.
"We have a few injuries but we don't slow down on that," Reid said. "We know they're good football players, we've got it. We also know we have some good football players that are behind them. ... It's a joint effort. Football is a joint effort. It's a team sport. Everyone's got to step up and do their job just a little bit better, coaches included. Right?"
The injuries started even before the season, when Joe Mays had surgery on his wrist. He's been given the designation to return, so it's possible he'll be able to contribute later in the season. But his loss left the Chiefs plugging a key hole at middle linebacker.
About the same time, right tackle Donald Stephenson was suspended four games for violating the NFL's policy on performance-enhancing substances. He'll be back after two more games.
Then the season opener rolled around.
Not only did Kansas City get routed by Tennessee at Arrowhead Stadium, three key players were all lost for the season. Pro Bowl linebacker Derrick Johnson and veteran defensive tackle Mike DeVito tore Achilles tendons within six plays of each other, and offensive lineman Jeff Allen hurt his biceps so severely that he required season-ending surgery on Friday.
The injuries to Charles and Berry, while not season-ending, are just as critical.
Charles accounted for nearly 40 percent of the Chiefs' offense last season. He's the biggest home-run hitter on a team mostly devoid of big-play threats. And after touching the ball just 11 times against the Titans, the Chiefs had formulated their game-plan around him on Sunday.
Instead, it was Knile Davis who had to step up. He did so admirably, running for 79 yards and a pair of touchdowns despite having a vastly different skillset.
"When I go in, I know my job has been all week to pay attention to what Jamaal does," Davis said. "I've been doing good film study, watching him and what he does so if unfortunately he went down I would be able to step in and help out."
Now, Davis will have an opportunity to prepare as the starter for the Dolphins.
The week of practice should be even more helpful to Ron Parker, who moved from cornerback to safety when Berry went down. Even though the Chiefs have two other safeties on their roster in Kelcie McCray and Kurt Coleman, it was Parker who got the tap on the shoulder.
Given the circumstances, he also fared well. The Chiefs held Peyton Manning to 242 yards passing for the game, and Denver managed just 17 points after Berry departed.
"You have to prepare like you never know what is going to happen because the NFL is a crazy game," Parker said. "You might be (injured) one week and then be the superstar the next week. So, you just have to be ready for anything at all times."
Notes: Chiefs S Husain Abdullah has a bruised foot and RB Cyrus Gray a strained foot. Neither injury is considered serious. ... WR/RB De'Anthony Thomas is expected to practice this week, Reid said. The rookie has missed the first two games with a hamstring injury.
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