Week 13’s main takeaway: The Chiefs will be worse, but still prolific without Kareem Hunt
News that Pro-Bowl running back Kareem Hunt would be released by the Chiefs and placed on the Commissioner's Exemptions List - effectively ending Hunt's season - sent shockwaves through the NFL over the weekend.
Multiple outlets have now told the story of Hunt, who committed an act of domestic violence in February and lied to the Chiefs about his involvement, which was confirmed after American news website TMZ released a video on Friday showing the running back pushing and kicking a woman in the hallway of his apartment.
The ramifications of Hunt’s actions and what they mean for his football future certainly make for an intriguing deep-dive into the NFL’s convoluted culture of forgiveness and its consistent ineptitude responding to allegations of domestic violence against its players.
For the purpose of this column, however, we will focus on the AFC-leading Kansas City Chiefs, and what Hunt’s absence means for their historically great attack - and Super Bowl chances - moving forward.
Through 12 weeks this season, Hunt accounted for 65 per cent of the Chiefs’ total rushing yards and had recorded seven receiving touchdowns, good for first in the NFL among running backs.
Losing a player of Hunt’s calibre would appear crippling for a team a decade ago, but a league-wide trend devaluing the running back position in recent seasons and Kansas City’s 40-point effort against the Raiders in week 13 represent positive indicators for Chiefs fans.
In Sunday's match against Oakland's admittedly poor defence, Kansas City totalled 174 yards rushing - the team's second-highest rushing output of the season - behind a balanced running back committee led by Spencer Ware, who finished with 47 rush yards and a touchdown.
Ware was Kansas City's starting running back in 2016, and finished 13th in the NFL in yards from scrimmage despite playing only 14 matches that season. Moving forward this season, he will be used in concert with Damien Williams, who ran for 38 yards on five carries on Sunday.
The last time a Super Bowl champion employed a Pro-Bowl running back was during the 2013-14 season, when Marshawn Lynch helped the Seahawks capture their first title against the Denver Broncos.
Since then, the leading rushers of Super Bowl champions have been LeGarrette Blount (2017 Eagles and 2016 Patriots), Ronnie Hillman (2015 Broncos) and Jonas Gray (2014 Patriots). Solid players, but none of whom were dynamic.
Sunday’s match and recent Super Bowl results prove that while losing Hunt will hurt, Ware and Williams only have to be serviceable in their roles for the team to continue its dominance.
Passing is the name of the game in 2018, and with an MVP candidate in quarterback Patrick Mahomes - who is surrounded by receiving weapons Travis Kelce, Tyreek Hill and Sammy Watkins - the Chiefs will still hold a competitive advantage against each defence they face moving forward.
While Hunt was a highly valuable weapon in the Chiefs' all-time-great attack, he was never the vital cog in the machine.
That title is fit for Mahomes, who, if the Chiefs were to lose between now and the play-offs, would justify fan concerns perhaps currently percolating in Kansas City after the loss of Hunt.
For now, however, Mahomes is dazzling, and the Chiefs are still in a great spot to compete for their first Super Bowl title since 1970.
Game of the weekend: Chargers defeat Steelers, 33-30
Facing a 23-7 halftime deficit, Philip Rivers and the Los Angeles Chargers surged back with 26 second half points to defeat the Pittsburgh Steelers, 33-30. A Keenan Allen receiving touchdown brought the game within seven toward the end of the third quarter, and a punt-return touchdown by Chargers return man Desmond King (plus a two-point conversion from Rivers to Allen) on the ensuing Pittsburgh drive tied the game at 23. After forcing a third consecutive Steelers punt, the Chargers drove 79 yards down the field, taking a 30-23 lead behind rookie running back Justin Jackson's first career rushing touchdown.
As he has so many times before, quarterback Ben Roethlisberger led the Steelers for a game-tying touchdown drive to match the Chargers' effort. Despite Big Ben's heroics, Rivers and the Chargers would not be denied in their comeback quest. With the clock winding down, the Chargers drove the length of the field to set up kicker Mike Badgley's match-winning 29-yard field goal with time expiring. The historic victory made the Chargers the first visiting team to win in Pittsburgh after trailing by 16 or more points in league history.
Play of the weekend: Tarik Cohen’s trick-play touchdown pass sends the Bears vs. Giants match to overtime
Trailing 27-20 with three seconds remaining in the fourth quarter, the Bears pulled off a gutsy trick play for the ages. Quarterback Chase Daniel handed the football off to tight end Trey Burton, who then flipped the ball to Cohen - a running back - on what looked like an end-around rush play. Instead of running the ball, Cohen tossed a short touchdown pass to wide receiver Anthony Miller with time expiring. A Cody Parkey extra point tied the match at 27, but the Giants would prevail in overtime, 30-27.
Next week’s key matchup: Ravens at Chiefs
Riding a three-match win streak behind rookie quarterback Lamar Jackson, The Baltimore Ravens (7-5) will travel to Kansas City to take on the AFC-leading Chiefs (10-2). The match will pit the Chiefs unstoppable attack against the Ravens immovable defence in what should be one of the most entertaining collisions this season.
The Chiefs will look to hold off the Patriots, Chargers and Texans for the number one seed in the AFC, while the Ravens hope to maintain their position atop the Wild Card standings and keep pace with the Steelers in the AFC North.