KANSAS CITY, Mo. — His coach and teammates describe Christian Okoye as a "man on a mission," but that only draws a chuckle from the soft-spoken, 250-pound back from Nigeria and Azusa Pacific.
"There is no mission," Okoye said Sunday after breaking through one of the NFL's best run defenses for 143 yards and a touchdown in the Kansas City Chiefs' 14-3 victory over the Atlanta Falcons.
"I'm not a guy who grew up playing football," said the 1989 NFL rushing champion, whose production last year declined by more than 600 yards. "I'm still a kid in the game."
Gaining momentum as the sloppily played season opener progressed, Okoye ran around right end for a four-yard touchdown in the third quarter for a 7-3 lead. He broke loose on a 48-yard run that helped set up Steve DeBerg's six-yard scoring pass to Emile Harry in the fourth quarter.
Okoye, who had 22 carries, ran for more yards against the Falcons than any back did in 1990.
"You could see it in training camp," guard Dave Szott said. "Christian has really been working on having a good year."
Falcon quarterback Chris Miller suffered through one of the worst games of his career, completing nine of 21 passes for 110 yards. He had four passes intercepted, three by cornerback Albert Lewis.
"I killed us today," Miller said. "I let down 45 guys out there. We ran the ball well, but when it was time to throw, I just didn't get the job done. I helped them win."
Lewis has had one three-interception game before--in 1985 against the Falcons.
The Falcons took a 3-0 lead into the third quarter, but they gave up the ball and subsequently the lead on one of many mistakes.
Miller, who had passed for only 45 net yards in the first half, was scrambling when Chris Martin knocked the ball out of his hands from behind and Deron Cherry fell on it on the Falcon 27.
Three rushes by Okoye put the ball on the four, and then Okoye went around right end untouched for the touchdown that put the Chiefs on top with 8:48 remaining in the third quarter.