If you think you have a sour taste in your mouth from how the Kansas City Chiefs’ 2021 season ended, imagine being one of the players that lived through the heartbreaking loss to the Cincinnati Bengals in the AFC Championship.
Then imagine you’re Chiefs defensive tackle Chris Jones, who had multiple opportunities to make a game-changing sack — but failed to complete the plays, aiding in Cincinnati’s upset.
Jones didn’t shy away from that pain as he prepared for the 2022 season. He shared that with reporters during his press conference on Wednesday.
“It was the driving force for this offseason,” Jones admitted. “You can always look back and push yourself to do something better... a lot of plays that I left on the field that I think could have sealed the game and put us in a better position to win.”
That motivation was so embedded in the Chiefs’ locker room that even the new players could feel the impact that the unexpected loss had on returning players. Safety Justin Reid was signed this offseason, yet he had no questions about how much this game meant to his new team.
“I would be remiss to say there isn’t an edge with how things ended last year in the building about this game,” Reid told reporters in the locker room before practice on Wednesday. “Before the season even started, this was a game circled on everybody’s calendar.”
Defensive end Mike Danna didn’t mince words about how he motivated he felt.
“Everybody knows in the facility that this is a big game,” Danna told reporters in the locker room. “We still have a salty taste in our mouths about last year. We have to go in and handle business this weekend.”
Now that we’re here in Week 13, revenge isn’t the only factor in how significant this game is. The Bengals are 7-4, vying for a spot in the AFC playoffs and a division title of their own. With six games to go, this game could either keep Cincinnati at a comfortable distance in the playoff standings — or allow them to be in the mix for home-field advantage.
“Make no mistake about it,” Reid emphasized. “This is going to be one of the determining games in the playoff picture. If we want to keep that number-one seed, we’re going to have to win this game.”
To earn the victory, Chiefs’ defenders understand how vital their responsibility is: slowing down a pass offense that can be as explosive as any in the NFL. Justin Reid is prepared to see everything the Bengals have to offer.
“There is definitely a big challenge ahead of us with this one,” Reid prefaced. “Joe Burrow is going to have all his weapons, we fully expect Ja’Marr Chase to be there. Tee Higgins, [Tyler] Boyd, even the reserves like Trenton Irwin do a pretty good job getting open for him. Burrow doesn’t like to do his legs, doesn’t like contact but will use when those open up for him. Of course, he has a very talented arm — really good at throwing the back-shoulder ball.”
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 racked up 266 yards through the air together.
The pressure that Chris Jones and the rest of the front generate can make a 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 that.
“I haven’t went back and watched it yet. They have a completely different offensive line,” Jones pointed out. “Everyone is new. I’ve been trying to get a beat on how they set, how that group is blocking together so I haven’t had time to go back to last year.”
Jones will learn more about his individual matchup as the week goes on, but he doesn’t need to go to the tape to understand how important he and the rest of the defense are to winning this game.
Both offenses will put up points, pressuring each other to score more on each possession. It’s up to the defense to make that stop or two to make the difference.
“They’re going to make some plays. They’re a very high-powered, potent offense... so we have to respond to that and make plays of our own,” Justin Reid asserted. “It’s going to be a heavyweight bout, punches are going to be thrown from both angles, so we have to make sure that at the end of the fight, we’re standing on top.”