Battling through a dismal season on and off the field, one of the Kansas City Chiefs' few positives has come in the form of inspirational performances from the player possibly affected the most by the recent tragic events.
Jamaal Charles likely hopes to get more opportunities to shine against the Oakland Raiders this time around.
Riding three consecutive 100-yard games, Charles looks to help guide Kansas City to its ninth victory in its last 10 visits to Oakland without top receiver Dwayne Bowe when these AFC West rivals meet Sunday.
Not only did Charles lose a teammate in the Jovan Belcher murder-suicide Dec. 1, but his wife's cousin, Kasandra Perkins, was the victim. Despite the tragedy, ensuing memorial services, wakes and funerals, Charles has managed to stay focused while not speaking publicly.
Charles, who leads the AFC with 1,220 rushing yards, ran for 127 in Kansas City's 27-21 victory over Carolina one day after the Belcher incident, following up a 107-yard effort in a loss to Denver one week earlier.
He scampered for an 80-yard touchdown on the first play of last Sunday's 30-7 loss to Cleveland, finishing with 165 yards for the struggling Chiefs (2-11).
''I think it speaks to the character of him as a man, how he's able to have an optimistic perspective despite all the things he's been through right now,'' said Brady Quinn, who completed only 10 of 21 passes for 159 yards and an interception against the Browns. ''It really speaks to who he is as man.''
Charles last rushed for over 100 yards in four straight games during the last four weeks of the 2009 season. To match that mark he'll have to overcome a Raiders defense likely focused on stopping the run with Bowe missing the rest of the season with injured ribs.
"We've leaned on him all year,'' coach Romeo Crennel said of Charles. ''He's been the consistent staple in our offense. We kind of lean on him.''
It hasn't been quite all season as Crennel suggested, seeing as Charles had only five carries and caught three passes for a total of 10 yards in a 26-16 loss to Oakland on Oct. 28 - a surprising development Crennel explained only by saying, ''Now, that I'm not exactly sure, either."
Raiders coach Dennis Allen doesn't foresee Charles playing such a limited role this time around, though, as Charles has rushed for at least 100 yards in four of the six games since that contest.
"I would think that they would turn around and hand the ball off to him. He's one of the more explosive players in the league," Allen said. "I would anticipate they would try to get him the ball."
Oakland, which has lost six straight since beating the Chiefs, and Kansas City each are allowing 131.2 rushing yards per game - tied for 26th in the NFL - and the Raiders (3-10) hope to get some production from their top back as well.
Darren McFadden, who ran for a season-high 114 yards in the first meeting, rushed 11 times for 52 yards before tweaking his already injured right ankle in the fourth quarter of last Thursday's 26-13 loss to Denver.
He had missed the previous four games with the injury, but the long layoff has given McFadden time to heal. He's expected to play Sunday, and defensive end Richard Seymour, who has missed the last five games after suffering a Grade 2 hamstring tear against Tampa Bay on Nov. 4, also could be ready to go.
"I thought he looked well and yeah, I think there's a good chance he's going to play this week," Allen said.
Linebacker Rolando McClain was reinstated Monday after serving a two-game suspension following an argument with Allen at practice Nov. 28. A team that's allowing a league-worst 30.9 points per game can use all the defensive help it can get, especially facing Charles.
Allen, though, is aware Oakland also is building for the future with 2012 being a lost season. He said younger players will see more time over the final three games, including former Ohio State star quarterback Terrelle Pryor, who has yet to take an official NFL snap in his two seasons.
''All of us, as competitors, we want to win,'' Allen said. ''But I also understand, and I've got a big-picture view of what I want this football team to look like. We've got to prepare for the future.''
Both Charles and McFadden were out with injuries for Kansas City's 28-0 victory Oct. 23, 2011, in the most recent meeting in Oakland.