How Chris Jones, ‘the most unstoppable man in football,’ got last laugh vs. Bengals | Football

How Chris Jones, ‘the most unstoppable man in football,’ got last laugh vs. Bengals | Football

As he reflected on the endless trash talk that emanated from Cincinnati last week, Chiefs defensive end Frank Clark simply shrugged. Like the rest of the Chiefs were almost unanimous. At least publicly.

Because the Bengals, as they relentlessly reminded with that stupidly incendiary “Burrowhead” thing, had indeed toppled the Chiefs three times in a row – including in the AFC Championship game last season.

“When you have victory, you have the last laugh; they have the final say right now,” Clark said last week. “(And) they have the final say right now.

“All we can do is look forward to the game we have this Sunday and find our laughter again.”

It wasn’t hard to assume, however, that this oddly calm collective disposition was a veneer. Behind the curtain, every unrequited insult ignited and fed into critical mass through playtime.

And it was fire that eventually turned into lots of laughs with a 23-20 win that propelled them to their third Super Bowl in four years and a showdown with Philadelphia on Feb. 12 in Glendale, Arizona.

The Last Last Laugh was well demonstrated by Clark puffing a victory cigar as he strutted through the stadium tunnel and into the Chiefs locker room. Clark, whose 13.5 playoff sacks are the third in NFL history, no doubt channeled Cincinnati quarterback Joe Burrow’s well-known habit after the win.

But perhaps the laugh track sounded the most at the postgame press conference with defensive lineman Chris Jones, whose fierce play suited the Associated Press Defensive Player of the Year. AFC, favorite that he is.

“Football’s most unstoppable man,” Clark called him after Jones uncorked two sacks — something like the first of his playoff career — five quarterback hits and 10 pressures.

Jones walked into the room with a smile and two stuffed animals strapped to his jacket in response to Burrow’s pregame arrival wearing a teddy bear T-shirt with the word ‘sorry’ on his own. shirt.

After seeing Burrow’s outfit, Jones said, “I was like, ‘I can’t let him get over me,’ right? So I had to pull out a teddy bear.

Surpassing Burrow, however, was much more than this sartorial stunt.

As much if not more than any other leader, Jones had embraced the angst of last season’s second-half slump against the Bengals.

Asked during the offseason by The Star’s Sam McDowell to assess his play last season, Jones immediately condensed it all while missing key potential sacks from Burrow in the Chiefs’ final game – including one in the fourth quarter after having both hands on Burrow’s shoulder pads.

“I missed some of the biggest plays of the game,” Jones said then. “I used that as motivation the whole offseason. I feel like if I had made those sacks, the game would have been different. I take responsibility for that.

“Attack him; use it as motivation for next year.

Along the way to achieving this with a 15.5 sack regular season recognized by the prestigious Committee of 101 (101 national media members) as deserving of the AFC Defensive Player of the Year, Jones has frequently credited the new defensive line coach Joe Cullen and other assistant coaches with help refine his game.

Not to mention pointing fingers at defensive line teammates for their own selflessness and defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo for scheming ways to make Jones more adept at wielding his influence.

Again, Cullen will tell you that Jones “has things I can’t train,” like his height and his athleticism.

Between all of that and Jones “keep cutting, one day at a time,” as Cullen put it, the 28-year-old Jones led the Chiefs to a remarkable turnaround in sacks produced (from 31 in 2021 to 55 in 2022) with his best season overall — a season that Cullen thought Jones needed to have for the Chiefs to return to that rarefied spot.

This notion has become all the more vital in the playoffs, especially given the bizarre discrepancy in Jones’ statistical game: zero sacks recorded in 13 career playoff appearances.

According to research by CBS’ Ryan Satsky, Jones had played the most playoff snaps (560) without firing a defensive lineman in the past decade.

So if the Chiefs’ win on Sunday was about redemption, from the perspective of the team with the individual tastes of Patrick Mahomes (in the context of last season’s AFC title game) and Skyy Moore and Harrison Butker, maybe to be that no one got more vindication for it than Jones with an opportunity rarely so directly confronted.

It wasn’t just that the Chiefs were back to the same stage they fell last season.

It was that they were up against Burrow and the Bengals, the same forces that simmered within Jones for much of the year.

“My whole offseason has been about this game,” Jones reiterated Sunday night. “I missed a few big games last year. (It’s) a shame they were able to move on, and I put that on my shoulders.

“So this offseason, I’ve dedicated my entire offseason to making sure that when that moment calls, for me again, in particular, I answer the call.”

The Bengals dialed that call in even more with their “Burrowhead” chatter, something Jones alluded to in a low voice even though it was obviously simmering inside. “See you all at Burrowhead,” he said a few days before the game.

His anger at the construction was rather evident in his pre-game message to his teammates at Arrowhead Stadium, the brainchild of Chiefs founder Lamar Hunt.

“It’s a thing! Lamar Hunt! Lamar Hunt! Lamar Hunt! he shouted on the field, as captured by NFL Films. “We’ve been hearing it all week, man! We have heard everything they can say!

Then the Chiefs set about smothering it all with the help of Jones confusing the Bengals again and again, especially in the crucible late in the game.

His last-minute Burrow sack forced the Bengals’ final punt. Which led to Moore’s 29-yard punt return.

Which allowed Mahomes’ run and the ensuing penalty that set Butker’s winning field goal.

Jones is “so good. He makes it so difficult for you,” said Burrow, who has been sacked five times after being knocked down just once in last season’s title game. “He is so big, strong and physical. He really understands what you are trying to do to him in the first place. You have to give them credit, they had a really good tip (pass) plan. They let their big passers get to work.

Afterwards, Jones seemed more focused on winning and the ‘Burrowhead’ affair – “never, ever, ever”, he said, “disrespecting Arrowhead Stadium” – than on his own personal breakthrough. .

Although smiling, he dismissed the idea that the count of empty bags had taken a toll on him.

“It was done a lot by (the media); you all make it bigger than it is,” he said. “Personally, I don’t really care about playoff stats. … I think you blow it out of proportion. It doesn’t really matter to me, but I’m (happy) you can have a another story that Chris Jones was eventually fired.

Then he chuckled. And why not?

Because after finally fending off the Bengals, Jones and the Chiefs have that laugh back now…even if the real last is yet to be determined in Arizona.

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