KANSAS CITY (AP) - On at least three occasions this season, an opposing coach was asked what it takes to stop Chiefs running back Jamaal Charles. Each time, they came back with the exact same response.
"If you've got the answer," Colts coach Chuck Pagano said, "I'm all ears."
That was before Kansas City played Indianapolis a couple of weeks ago at Arrowhead Stadium, and the Colts didn't need to do much to stop Charles in a 23-7 victory. The Chiefs only gave him six touches in the second half, something coach Andy Reid lamented following the game.
It stands to reason that Kansas City will at least make the Colts do the job themselves when the teams meet in a wild-card playoff game Saturday at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis.
"You're talking about a guy that's a game wrecker," Pagano said this week. "Whether you hand the ball off to him, catching the ball out of the backfield, swing passes, split him out and put him in receiver positions - the guys has so much versatility and so much talent.
"He's a home-run hitter," he added. "It's a huge challenge."
Two years after a devastating knee injury threatened his career, and one year after he was the lone bright spot in a blighted season, Charles has put together one of the finest campaigns in the history of a franchise that has had plenty of notable offensive stars.
He's already run for 1,287 yards and 12 touchdowns, solid if unspectacular numbers unless you consider that he's done it while averaging 5 yards per carry. He also has a career-best 70 catches for 693 yards and seven more touchdowns, giving him nearly 2,000 yards from scrimmage.
Mike Shanahan, then the coach of the Redskins, seemed baffled watching Charles carve up his defense with 150 yards rushing on a snowy Sunday a few weeks ago.
The following week, Raiders coach Dennis Allen watched helplessly on the sideline as Charles caught eight passes for 195 yards and four touchdowns while also running for a score.
"He's not a one-trick pony," Colts linebacker Robert Mathis said. "He can catch the ball, run the ball in between the tackles, outside the tackles, screens. Whatever you ask him to do, he can do, and take it to the house. So he's a problem and a half."
Unless, of course, the Chiefs quit giving him the ball.
When the Colts beat the Chiefs two weeks ago, Charles ran for 106 yards on 13 carries - an average of more than 8 yards per attempt, for the mathematically challenged. He also caught five passes for 38 yards, again averaging nearly 8 yards per catch. Yet he only had five carries in the second half, when the outcome was still in question, and six second-half touches total.
Reid acknowledged the following day he needed to get "25" the ball more, but he wouldn't get into details. Perhaps he was saving something for Saturday, knowing even then that there was a good chance the Chiefs would be seeing Indianapolis again in the playoffs.
"I mean, I never question the game plan," Charles said Tuesday. "Whatever coach does with the game plan, I just go with it. I know it's going to be a load on me this week."
Charles has remained relatively healthy this season. He dealt with some nasty blisters on his feet earlier in the year, but they eventually cleared up. But just to make sure, Reid included him among several starters who were inactive for last week's game at San Diego.
"It was definitely crucial for me to get some rest this week," Charles said. "I know what's at stake this week. My body feels so good going into this week. I should be all rested up."
Charles has played in one playoff game, three years ago against Baltimore. It was an ugly experience for all kinds of reasons: The weather was bone-chilling cold, Charles coughed the ball up once and the Ravens rolled to a 30-7 victory at Arrowhead Stadium.
It's a memory Charles would like to replace with one much OVERSET FOLLOWS:more pleasant.
"I know my first time, I acted like a rookie. I was excited and fumbled the ball, and now I'm going in my second time and seeing other people, becoming a vet, 27 years old, I really want this," Charles said. "I really want to go far, and if I have to put the team on my back, I will."