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Tim Layden
November 27, 2006
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November 27, 2006

The Nfl

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Hail to The Chief

The story line in Kansas City last week centered on the return of quarterback Trent Green from the severe concussion he suffered in Week 1. But while Green played effectively in the 17--13 victory over the Raiders, the real standout on Sunday—and throughout Green's two-month absence—was Pro Bowl running back Larry Johnson. Since his breakout season in 2005, Johnson's consistent performance has affirmed his place among the league's elite backs. And in Green's absence, his off-the-field role became just as critical to keeping the 6--4 Chiefs in the playoff hunt.

Last Thursday, Johnson was in a familiar spot, a cozy private room in the back of George Brett's restaurant in K.C., where he gathers each week with his fellow running backs to analyze film. It's a tradition begun by fullback Tony Richardson that Johnson took upon himself after Richardson signed with the Vikings in the off-season. That sense of responsibility was what coach Herm Edwards hoped to spark last February when he asked him to take a leadership role. Johnson has also relished his job as linchpin of the offense, averaging 29 carries and 138 yards over his last five games while scoring nine rushing touchdowns. "Larry doesn't lead by being a rah-rah guy," says K.C. return specialist Dante Hall. "He does it by showing up every Sunday. The guys in this locker room know that no matter what happens, he's going to produce."

That production has come despite numerous setbacks on the offensive line. The unit, already depleted by the retirement of Pro Bowl left tackle Willie Roaf before the season, has endured injuries that could have been crippling. Right tackle Kevin Sampson suffered a foot injury in late October, Pro Bowl left guard Brian Waters hurt his knee on Nov. 4, and Pro Bowl tight end Tony Gonzalez sprained his shoulder at Miami on Nov. 10; all missed Sunday's game. Nevertheless, Johnson rushed 31 times for 154 yards and two touchdowns against Oakland on his 27th birthday. "It's not so much who they have on the offensive line as who they have in the backfield," said Raiders defensive end Lance Johnstone.

Says Johnson, "I try to let people know I'm going to be physical. Sooner or later those guys are going to wear down and get tired of hitting me. That's how I control the game."

Jeffri Chadiha goes Inside the NFL Tuesdays at

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