Charles rushes into MVP race

KANSAS CITY, Mo. – Much like the pursuit of the AFC West title, the NFL MVP contest is a two-pony chase.

Coincidentally, both leading MVP candidates come from teams vying for division supremacy with Denver Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning and Chiefs running back Jamaal Charles.

December 15, 2013; Oakland, CA, USA; Chiefs running back Jamaal Charles (25) runs past Raiders free safety Charles Woodson (24) during the first quarter at Coliseum. Mandatory Credit: Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports
December 15, 2013; Oakland, CA, USA; Chiefs running back Jamaal Charles (25) runs past Raiders free safety Charles Woodson (24) during the first quarter at Coliseum. Mandatory Credit: Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

What was once considered an easy win for Manning, Charles emphatically announced his challenge after Week 15’s dominating five-touchdown performance to go along with 215 total yards (195 receiving).

“He’s got my vote,” Chiefs coach Andy Reid said of Charles following Sunday’s game. “Anybody, however many folks that were here today, I’m sure he’s probably got their vote.

“I don’t know how anybody could be more valuable to a team’s success than he is, so I’m pulling for him.”

Of course, Reid’s opinion carries bias.

However, it’s difficult to ignore a current onslaught by the Chiefs star rusher. Since Week 12, Charles has 379 yards rushing, 272 yards receiving and 10 total TDs (5 rushing, 5 receiving).

Still, it’s not about recent exploits.

Like the main competition in Denver, Charles has been doing it the whole season. But unlike Manning, the national media spotlight from the likes of ESPN or the NFL Network, among others, hasn’t consistently fallen on Charles.

Very quietly, Charles has asserted himself into the record books, a list of accomplishments that includes:

• Only player in NFL history to have four receiving touchdowns, one rushing in a single game.
• The five total touchdowns in Week 15 tie for the fourth-most in a single game in NFL history and was one shy of the league record.
• Established an NFL record by becoming the first running back in league history to record four receiving touchdowns in a single game.
• Second player in NFL history to total 100 yards and a touchdown in each of the first seven games to start a season, joining Pro Football Hall of Fame running back O.J. Simpson as the only two players to accomplish the feat.
• First player in team history to rush for 1,000 yards four times.

Meanwhile, it’s been a tale of two halves for the Chiefs – first half dominated by defense, second half by offense – but there’s been one constant.

While the offense was finding its legs through the first half of the season, the team relied on Charles to close games.

“Just having a running back like Jamaal, a guy that can do all he does on first, second and third down,” quarterback Alex Smith said on Oct. 2. “But then you get into those fourth quarter games and you get a guy who can run the ball like he does, it’s been special to watch.”

[Related: Charles stellar in closer role]

Two months later, the fourth quarter still belongs to Charles, where the two-time Pro Bowler currently leads the NFL with 399 yards rushing on 76 carries in the final period.

Charles also has three fourth-quarter touchdowns, which are tied for the third-most in the league.

On the season, Charles leads the NFL with a career-high 18 total touchdowns (11 rushing), rushed for 1,181 yards and amassed 1,836 total yards (career-high 65 receptions for 655 yards). He ranks second in the league behind Philadelphia Eagles running back LeSean McCoy (1,836) in yards from scrimmage.

Charles currently leads the AFC with 34 rushes of 10 or more yards and is tied for third in the NFL.

Meanwhile, debates are sure to rage as to who is more important to their respective teams between Manning and Charles.

Moreover, a discussion is warranted on a pass-happy NFL modern era with rules designed to capitalize on a quarterbacks skills, making it difficult to argue against Charles doing things the old fashioned way the entire season.

No doubt Manning has gaudy numbers, but so does Charles without the same benefits afforded to the league’s quarterbacks.

Nevertheless, NFL media members from The Associated Press and Pro Football Writers of America with a counting vote for the MVP have a wake-up call.

Charles’ Week 15 performance demands attention and even Jay Glazer of FOX Sports found it worthy enough to compare Charles to the primary competition for the league’s MVP.

In the meantime, NFL media members should take notice and at least carefully consider options when MVP ballots arrive in the coming weeks.

Doing so will allow the discovery of what the Chiefs already know.

“Absolutely special,” team chairman and CEO Clark Hunt told reporters after Sunday’s game against the Raiders. “Jamaal has been that type of player for the Chiefs for many years now and you almost come to expect great performances from him.

“But certainly this has got to be one of the tops in his career and who knows where the ceiling is. We’ve seen him do it rushing the ball and today he did it receiving; five touchdowns, that’s pretty hard to do in the National Football League.”