Holmes returns from two-year absence after severe neck injury
OAKLAND, Calif. -- Priest Holmes completed his improbable comeback Sunday, returning to the Kansas City Chiefs' lineup nearly two years after a serious neck injury threatened the three-time Pro Bowl running back's career.
Holmes played for the first time since Oct. 30, 2005, in the Chiefs' 12-10 road victory over the rival Oakland Raiders. Though he managed just 9 yards on four carries, his pain-free performance suggested the former star's comeback story has additional chapters.
"I'm excited," said Holmes, the Chiefs' career franchise leader in yards rushing and touchdowns. "There wasn't really much I did, other than when I was called on, I did a couple of little things. It wasn't anything new. At the end of the day, this is work."
E-ticket: The Holmes Mystery
People who are close to him say they are accustomed to Chiefs running back Priest Holmes' habit of going against the grain. But his comeback attempt after a debilitating neck injury may have broken even his mold.
"For a guy that hadn't played in a long time, he did a good job," coach Herm Edwards said. "He got through it, and now he'll be more involved in it."
Even that 6-yard loss on the first pass was a huge gain for a once-dominant 34-year-old back whose career was widely assumed to be finished. Most fans thought his next appearance at Arrowhead Stadium would be to see his name enshrined on the facade as a member of the Chiefs Hall of Fame.
Holmes enjoyed a sublime 4½-year stretch with the Chiefs from 2001-05, rushing for 5,933 yards and 76 TDs. His 83 total TDs also are a franchise best.
Holmes hadn't played since a vicious hit from San Diego's Shawne Merriman caused the neck injury.
Now, it's possible Holmes might be ready to provide a third-down counterpoint to Larry Johnson in an offense that has relied heavily on Holmes' heir since his injury.
"It's just part of my job, [and] I'll come in here and do it very humbly," Holmes said. "If I get one, two, three carries, I'll do whatever I need to do. I've still got a long ways to go."
After watching the Chiefs' first two series on the sideline, Holmes entered the game on the third play of Kansas City's third drive, shortly before the first quarter ended. He caught a screen pass from Damon Huard, but was buried by cornerback Nnamdi Asomugha.
"I was excited just to get that first hit out of the way," Holmes said. "Then they didn't really get the opportunity to use me again until the fourth quarter. When you're the third-down back, you only get so many opportunities, because you want your first guy feeling good."
Holmes carried the ball for no gain late in the third quarter, but made two key runs for 11 yards late in the fourth. His biggest contribution was his first-down run around the left end with 3 minutes left.
He even tried to fall down before going out of bounds to keep the clock running, but that veteran play went unrewarded when the officials ruled him out.
"It was great when we got towards the end of the game, when we were in the huddle and we were getting a little tired," tight end Tony Gonzalez said. "It was good to put No. 31 in there."
Even Edwards, who took over the club last season, figured Holmes' career was over when the veteran wasn't able to return for 2006. Holmes surprised the Chiefs by reporting to training camp in River Falls, Wis., this summer, claiming he saw himself returning to action in a dream. His comeback was ridiculed by some fans and media members, with speculation he was risking his health for money.
The Chiefs kept Holmes out of full practices through the first six weeks of the season. Once he returned to regular workouts last Wednesday, Kansas City decided to test him after trading backup Michael Bennett to Tampa Bay.
For now, Kansas City will use Holmes as a third-down back behind Johnson, who became one of the NFL's elite ball carriers during Holmes' absence. Johnson had 3,539 yards rushing over the past two seasons, carrying the Kansas City offense in Holmes' absence.
"By the end of the year, it could be one of the best -- if not the best -- one-two punches in the NFL," Gonzalez said.
Copyright 2007 by The Associated Press
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