KANSAS CITY, Mo. — High-flying offenses are seldom synonymous with toughness.
The St. Louis Rams’ “Greatest Show on Turf” wasn’t known for battering teams.
The Tom Brady/Randy Moss New England Patriots were offensive assassins but won by overwhelming more than overpowering.
It was the same for Peyton Manning’s record-setting Denver Broncos offenses.
That makes the Kansas City Chiefs’ 2018 attack — which has averaged an NFL-best 37.1 points through seven games, which would be the second-highest scoring average in NFL history behind the 2013 Broncos (37.9) — unique thanks to its finishing hammer.
While “Showtime” Patrick Mahomes and the pass catchers — speedy Tyreek Hill, dominant Travis Kelce, and free-agent addition Sammy Watkins — have garnered much of the attention and hype, running back Kareem Hunt may be the most important non-quarterback for the offense.
During his career, Hunt averages 5.2 yards per carry in the fourth quarter, when he’s also scored six of 13 career rushing touchdowns.
Hunt averages only 4.2 yards per carry during the first quarter, which is roughly the league average, but he gets better in the second (5.4), third (4.7) and fourth quarters.
“I take a lot of pride in that,” Hunt said. “That’s what I want to be known for as a guy who will start off the game physical and end the game physical. In the fourth quarter, I really take pride in finishing them off pretty much. Hopefully, I’ve been wearing them down all night and then the big runs will start breaking off in the fourth.”
But that toughness is evident throughout the game as he routinely breaks tackles and drags tacklers for extra yards.
Hunt, who led the NFL in rushing last season (1,327 yards), has converted on 15 of 19 touches from scrimmage in third- or fourth-and-short situations, including 11 of 15 rushes.
“I’ve always run that way my whole life,” Hunt said. “Just not letting one person bring me down is one of the biggest things with me. If I let just one person bring me down, I get kind of upset with myself. I’ll get up and smack the ball. The line can’t block everybody and I look at it like that — I’ve got to make one guy miss, at least, and then fall forward.”
Hunt’s football-loving mindset and hard-nosed approach is infectious.
— Kansas City Chiefs (@Chiefs) October 23, 2018
“I love blocking for Kareem,” offensive lineman Andrew Wylie said. “You see the highlights of that guy running the ball and I get shivers, man. It’s unreal. He’s running over guys, people are diving at his ankles and he’s going right through it.”
Everyone — no, seriously, everyone — marveled as Hunt spun out of a tackle, hurdled a safety and bounced off a few more defenders during a signature run Sunday against the Cincinnati Bengals.
— Kansas City Chiefs (@Chiefs) October 22, 2018
Kareem Hunt mic'd up during THE HURDLE. 💪 pic.twitter.com/nZvWbDT42Q
— Kansas City Chiefs (@Chiefs) October 24, 2018
Hunt’s leap even garnered a shout-out — “Nice hurdle by @Kareemhunt7” — from Barry Sanders on Twitter.
Nice hurdle by @Kareemhunt7
— Barry Sanders (@BarrySanders) October 22, 2018
“It’s like an idol growing up, talking to you and it meant a lot,” Hunt said. “I had posters of him on my wall and I always wanted to be (him). Barry Sanders was the greatest of all time to me growing up.”
Hunt knows the effect he has on the Chiefs as a team.
“They cheer and they get fired up,” he said. “Now, those guys are trying to go hit somebody and fly around, make a play. We feed off one another.”
It makes everyone give a little extra, because they see Hunt doing it.
“The play where he hurdled in the last game, I was on the ground, I pulled around and I didn’t know where he was,” Wylie said. “I get up and I’m looking, and he just hurdled a dude like 10 yards past me. So, you’ve got to keep blocking to the whistle, but that man — he’s a monster and he runs like it. … He’s a hard-working guy with an insane work ethic, and it shows on game day.”
The ability to pound teams in submission led by Hunt is fun now, but it could prove even more important during the postseason. That balance makes the Chiefs nigh unstoppable.
“He brings a ton of toughness,” Mahomes said. “I talk to (backup quarterback Chad) Henne about it all the time, I say, ‘I do not want to be the guy tackling that guy.’ He runs hard but at the same time he’s fast and agile. He can make people miss. For me, we do all this RPO (run-pass option) stuff, sometimes I’ll just hand it off and let that dude work.”