Trent Green's lengthy injury hasn't sunk the Chiefs—thanks to the unflappable performance of backup QB Damon Huard
TERRY SHEA, the Chiefs' quarterbacks coach, didn't like what he was seeing. It was 2 1/2 hours before kickoff against the Seahawks at Kansas City's Arrowhead Stadium, and his starting QB, Damon Huard, was moving like a man who hadn't shaken the strained groin he'd suffered three days earlier in practice. Huard grimaced throughout most of a 20-minute workout that included multiple drop-backs, simulated handoffs and throws from the shotgun. But despite the pain, Huard was in the lineup—and he delivered the best performance of his 10-year career, going 17 for 25 for 312 yards and one touchdown in a 35--28 Chiefs win. "There was no way I wasn't going to be out there," Huard said later.
Thanks to Huard's steady hand, Kansas City is 4--3 and in the hunt in the AFC West despite having lost starting quarterback Trent Green in the season opener. Huard's primary contribution has been to provide stability at football's most important position. "Damon hasn't played like a backup," says Shea. Indeed, Huard has kept his mistakes to a minimum (eight touchdowns, just one interception in 188 attempts) and shown he can make the big throw—none bigger than the 51-yard fourth-quarter completion to wide receiver Eddie Kennison on Sunday that set up running back Larry Johnson's game-winning three-yard touchdown run. Indeed, Huard's performance has eased some of the pressure on Johnson, who after a slow start broke out in the last two games, with 287 rushing yards and five touchdowns.
As is the case with most backup quarterbacks, no one knew what to expect from Huard, who went undrafted out of Washington in 1996 and had just six NFL starts before this season. They know now. "You can see that [ Huard] has a lot of savvy," said Seahawks linebacker Julian Peterson. "He obviously understands the game because he's been around for a while. He just hasn't gotten the reps."
In the Chiefs' eyes, the best thing about Huard is that he hasn't tried to overcompensate for the leadership they lost when Green sustained a severe concussion in a season-opening loss to Cincinnati. What Huard has learned in a career that has taken him from Miami to New England to Kansas City is that the best backups don't try to do too much. Says Huard, "I understand that my job is to get the ball to our playmakers."
The Chiefs devised a very conservative game plan for Huard's first start, at Denver on Sept. 17. Johnson carried 27 times, and Huard passed for just 133 yards. But he was efficient—17 of 23—in the 9--6 overtime loss, and after that the Chiefs felt comfortable giving him more responsibility. In his last five outings Huard has averaged 29 attempts and 240 yards. "The best thing is that [K.C. coach] Herm [Edwards] hasn't overanalyzed me or overcoached me," Huard says. "He's just told me to go out and have fun."
Thanks to Huard, the Chiefs are less anxious about Green's return. They'd hoped to have him available on Nov. 12 at Miami, but Green says a more realistic date is Kansas City's Nov. 19 meeting with Oakland at Arrowhead. Last week he received clearance to do individual drills, and he's hoping to start full team practices this week.
In the meantime, Huard will try to continue a run that he calls the most enjoyable time of his career. As he walked gingerly out of Arrowhead Stadium late Sunday afternoon, his eyes scanning the parking lot for loved ones, he acknowledged the fate of the backup quarterback—that sooner or later the ride will end. "This job belongs to Trent," Huard said. "I'm just doing the best I can until he comes back to claim it."