Kareem Hunt's eyes must have gotten wide when he took a handoff from Alex Smith and plunged toward the line of scrimmage in the first half of Sunday's game against the Oakland Raiders.
For once, he didn't have a massive defensive tackle ready to give him a bear hug.
Hunt wound up slicing past the line of scrimmage for a 6-yard gain, a modest success by some standards but a run that must have felt like freedom.
It was a third of his total two weeks ago against Buffalo, and set the tone for what would be a massive bounce-back performance.
Hunt wound up rushing for 116 yards and a touchdown, and caught three passes for 22 yards, to help the Chiefs to a 26-15 victory in a crucial showdown for the AFC West race.
"Honestly, I would feel this way if we win no matter what my numbers look like. It is just huge to go out there and get a big-time win and keep it going," said Hunt, who had not eclipsed the 100-yard mark since a Week 5 win in Houston. "Now we just have to keep doing what we are doing."
It wasn't just a bounce-back performance for Hunt, of course. The victory snapped a four-game skid and put the Chiefs in solid position with the Chargers coming to town Saturday night.
Those teams are 7-6 and tied atop the AFC West.
The Chiefs won their first meeting in Los Angeles, and Hunt was a big reason why. The rookie with the wide smile and never-go-down attitude churned 17 times for 172 yards and the clinching touchdown in a 24-10 victory, one of many highlights during what became a 5-0 start.
Things soon began to go sideways for Hunt and the Chiefs, though.
Injuries along the offensive line hurt chemistry. Defenses began to stack the box to take away the sensational first-year player.
Balance went out of the offense and a group flying high after wins over New England and Philadelphia had ground to a halt.
Hunt was held to 21 yards in a loss to Pittsburgh. He gained 87 yards against Oakland and 46 against Denver. He managed 37 against Dallas and 73 in a loss to the Giants, when the Chiefs failed to score a touchdown.
There was the lousy performance in Buffalo and a struggle two weeks ago against the Jets, when he gained 40 yards on nine carries in a 38-31 defeat.
All the while, the Chiefs kept going to him.
It was only a matter of time, quarterback Alex Smith said, until Hunt broke loose again.
He finally did on Sunday. And even though he didn't have any of those long touchdown runs that were a hallmark of his first few games, Hunt consistently fell forward, giving the Chiefs positive yardage just about every time he touched the ball.
"We mixed it up. Certainly when we got into the meat of the game, I think you saw a little more with that," Smith said. "Be able to take our shots there with Kareem and I thought he ran hard."
He also resumed his charge at the Chiefs record book.
- Hunt has 1,046 yards, joining the late Joe Delaney as the only Chiefs running backs to crack the 1,000-yard barrier as a rookie. Delaney ran for 1,121 yards in 1981, and like Hunt, he had five 100-yard rushing performances that season.
- Hunt's total already ranks 15th in franchise history, and he needs just 242 yards over the final three games to pass Jamaal Charles for the eighth-best season.
- Hunt has five touchdowns rushing and two receiving, and needs just two touchdowns to pass Mike Garrett and Johnny Robinson for fourth-most among Chiefs rookies.
- Hunt has carried 218 times this season, second-most by a rookie in franchise history.
"It's a huge accomplishment," he said of hitting the 1,000-yard mark, which he realized when the astute video board operators showed a graphic at Arrowhead Stadium.
"Nobody can ever take that away from you, and I just want to thank those guys up front. They did a great job."
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