If you think you have a bad taste in your mouth from the Kansas City Chiefs’ 2021 season finale, imagine being one of the players who lived through the heartbreaking loss to the Cincinnati Bengals in the AFC Championship.
So imagine you’re Chiefs defensive tackle Chris Jones, who had several game-changing opportunities – but failed to complete the plays, helping Cincinnati’s comeback.
Jones hasn’t shied away from that pain as he prepares for the 2022 season. He shared this with reporters during his Wednesday press conference.
“It was the driving force for this offseason,” admitted Jones. “You can always look back and push yourself to do something better… a lot of plays I left on the field I think could have sealed the game and put us in a better position to win.”
That motivation was so ingrained in the Chiefs locker room that even new players could feel the impact the unexpected loss had on returning players. Safety Justin Reid was signed this offseason, but he had no doubts about how much this game meant to his new team.
“I would be remiss to say that there’s no advantage to how things ended last year in the making of this game,” Reid told reporters in the locker room before practice on Wednesday. “Before the season even started, this was a game on everyone’s calendar.”
Defensive end Mike Danna didn’t mince words about how motivated he felt.
“Everybody knows at the facility that this is a big game,” Danna told reporters in the locker room. “We still have a salty taste in our mouths from last year. We have to go in and take care of business this weekend.
Now that we’re here at week 13, revenge isn’t the only important factor for this game. The Bengals are at 7-4, vying for an AFC playoff berth and a division title of their own. With six games to go, this game could keep Cincinnati a comfortable distance away in the playoff standings — or allow them to be in contention for home field advantage.
“Make no mistake about it,” Reid emphasized. “This will be one of the decisive games in the playoff image. If we want to keep the number one seed, we have to win this game.
To clinch the win, Chiefs defensemen understand how vital their responsibility is: slowing down an offensive pass that can be as explosive as any in the NFL. Justin Reid is primed to see everything the Bengals have to offer.
“We definitely have a big challenge ahead of us with this one,” Reid prefaced. “Joe Burrow will have all his guns, hopefully Ja’Marr Chase will be there. Tee Higgins, [Tyler] Boyd, even backups like Trenton Irwin do a good job opening for him. Burrow doesn’t like doing his legs, he doesn’t like contact, but he’ll use them when they open up for him. Of course, he has a very talented arm – very good at throwing the ball with his shoulder back.”
Burrow had a lot of success hitting back-shoulder throws against the Chiefs last year, especially in the first game – when he and wide receiver Ja’Marr Chase amassed 266 yards through the air combined.
The pressure Chris Jones and the rest of the front generate could make the difference in limiting that aerial attack, but it won’t be the same pass protection that Jones had some success against last year – and he knows it.
“I still haven’t gone back and watched it. They have a completely different offensive line,” Jones pointed out. “Everyone is new. I’ve been trying to understand where they stand, how this group is coming together, so I haven’t had time to go back to last year.”
Jones will learn more about their one-on-one matchup as the week goes on, but he doesn’t need to go to tape to understand just how important he and the rest of the defense are to winning this game.
Both offenses will score points, putting pressure on each other to score more on every possession. It’s up to the defense to make a stop or two to make the difference.
“They are going to make some plays. They are a powerful, potent offense… so we have to respond to that and make our own plays,” said Justin Reid. “It will be a heavyweight fight, the punches will come from both angles, so we have to guarantee that at the end of the fight we will be on top.”