If the Chiefs managed to rally from losing six of seven games in the middle of the season to make a productive playoff run, safety Eric Berry might find a few votes for team most valuable player without even stepping foot on the field.
Berry proved his value once again on Sunday, stepping into the circle among his teammates at the end of their pregame warmups and commanding attention before a fiery defensive effort in a 26-15 victory over the Oakland Raiders. Team elder statesman Derrick Johnson said that’s what No. 29 does.
“EB’s an inspiration on and off the field,” linebacker Derrick Johnson said. “He’s a guy that everybody looks up to. He’s younger than me but we look up to him. When he speaks, we’re listening.”
Berry’s season ended after just 70 snaps in the season opening upset over the New England Patriots. A torn Achilles tendon robbed Berry of his season on the field. With the Chiefs facing a must-win game against the Raiders, however, Johnson said Berry delivered prophetic words to his teammates.
“He just told us to take advantage of the moment, make sure we have a lot of carry over,” Johnson said. “What we did during the week, we’re going to see out here and that’s exactly what we saw during the week.”
The Chiefs belong to Berry more than any other player. The veteran safety no doubt didn’t like what he saw a week ago. The Chiefs surrendered an early led to the New York Jets and could not find a way to get off the field on third down. That performance
“In the secondary, last week was bad so it took as this week we wanted to come hard and just work hard, tight coverage,” Parker said. “We wanted coverage to be real tight this week.”
Berry rolled up his sleeves and went to work, Parker said.
“EB came into the building early this week and helped us with techniques and everything,” Parker explained. “After working Wednesday, left Wednesday the gym at 7:30 in the night time just working on little technique like man-to-man technique that would help us on Sundays. It’s little stuff like shooting your hands in. It just carries over on Sunday. It’s hard work and it’s a lot but it carries over on Sundays.
“He brings out the best in us,” he said.
Cornerback Terrance Mitchell drew the starting assigned in place of suspended All-Pro Marcus Peters. Mitchell responded with arguable his best game of the season, intercepting one pass and breaking up three others. He tipped away the pass that safety Steven Terrell snagged to put away the Raiders for good near the end of the fourth quarter.
Mitchell said Berry helped prep him for stepping into the big shoes of Peters.
“He has helped since I have been here with just the overall knowledge that he has give me and having him out there like another coach.”
Head coach Andy Reid said that sometimes injured players disappear. They report to work for their rehabilitation, but fade into the background because they don’t feel a part of the team if they can’t contribute. Not so much with Berry, who remains omnipresent for the Chiefs in the locker room, in meetings and on the practice field.
“He’s part of the team, a big part of the team,” Reid said. “He’s welcome back. From my standpoint he’s always welcome back and I’m glad he was here.”
Parker said Berry continues putting his stamp on the defense through his advice to coaches and players alike.
“The communication and the way we play together, we feed off his energy, his vibe,” Parker said. “Just to look at him and see him walk through here, it just gives you a different energy. We do feed off of Eric Berry’s presence just being around him in the locker room and around the team period.”
If the Chiefs do wind their way through the last three weeks of the season to the AFC West title, they may need Berry’s help once again to make a deep playoff run.
“I just told him that on the sideline – we might have to stick you into one of these bags and get you up on the plane with us because we might need you in our presence for the rest of the ride,” Parker said.