DALLAS — Tamba Hali is a football player, and the last 10 months feeling healthy enough to play but forced to watch his Kansas City Chiefs teammates from the sidelines proved one of the more difficult battles of his 12-year career.
“Even when we win, I feel like my job is to force fumbles, get sacks and when I don’t do that in the game, I’m an older player so I’m watching more.” Hali said. “When I’m not participating it’s hard on me because I want to be in to try and help our team.”
Hali saw his wish come true this week with the Chiefs returning him to practice Thursday, adding him to the 53-man roster Saturday and lining him up against the Dallas Cowboys Sunday, culminating a wild 72-hour turnabout for the veteran pass rusher.
“I’m very pleased to be back with our team and playing and contributing in ways that the coaches are pleased,” Hali said. “To have all the nuisance or whatever it was behind us is pretty decent for me now so I can play football.”
The Chiefs seemed to have a plan for Hali, keeping him fresh by limiting his playing time early so they can have him ready for the end of the season. But the plan lacked an effective date to put into action. Dee Ford’s back injury and Justin Houston’s balky knee proved harbingers for Hali’s return.
“I’ll be honest with you, I was just sitting waiting,” Hali said. “I didn’t know when I’d come back. That’s just how it was the entire time.”
Hali said head coach Andy Reid and general manager Brett Veach told Hali to hang in there. Mike Borgonzi, the team’s director of player personnel, also kept in touch with Hali throughout the season.
“Just keep doing what you’re doing, we’re going to need you for the stretch,” Hali said Reid and Veach both told him.
As difficult as the time away proved for him, Hali said the break kept him fresh.
“I feel great being out there,” Hali said. “I’ve been working the whole offseason so for me I feel great.”
Reid described himself as leery about bringing Hali back now. The swelling in Hali’s knees remain a concern.
“I wasn’t as optimistic that he’d be able to stay out on his knee, but he was fine,” Reid said.
For his first game back, Hali said his ability to get off the snap concerned him the most.
“That one you can’t send me later because the offense is moving at their own pace and you’ve got to be able, not jump the count, but at least be able to anticipate the snap,” Hali said. “Maybe that’s where I might have struggled a bit today.”
The Chiefs have struggled against the run in recent weeks, allowing 603 yards rushing in their four previous games. The defense fared better facing the league’s third-leading rusher in Ezekiel Elliott. Elliott rushed for 93 yards and a touchdown on 27 carries. Dallas netted 131 yards on the ground.
“It’s just will,” Hali said of stopping the run. “We emphasized it this week, and the guys were just willing to go ahead and play the run. We knew this team ran the ball, and they didn’t the whole game.”
That’s what Hali says the Chiefs defense needs. He hopes he can bring a fighting mentality to the team over the second half of the season.
“You can blitz and do all kind of stuff when you’re passing,” Hali explained. “But when you’re running, it’s mano a mano, double two-on-one and you have to be able to defeat blocks, and that’s just it.”