After 16 games of ups and downs, the Kansas City Chiefs turned in their best defensive performance of the season in Saturday’s regular-season finale 31-13 victory over the Las Vegas Raiders.
Chiefs defensive tackle Chris Jones turned in a monster game, registering 2.5 sacks on Raiders quarterback Jarrett Stidham. Jones tied a career-high with 15.5 sacks on the season.
Wrapped him up! @StoneColdJones gets his 15th sack of the season— NFL (@NFL) January 8, 2023
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The Chiefs totaled 6.0 sacks on Stidham and forced two turnovers. More than half of the fourth quarter had expired before the Raiders found the end zone, making the final score appear closer than the game truly was.
Speaking after the game, the face of the Chiefs defense credited his teammates who do the dirty work opening lanes for him — and he continued to praise what defensive line coach Joe Cullen accomplished in his first season in Kansas City.
“My supporting cast — what those guys have been able to do for me freeing me open,” credited Jones. “And Joe Cullen — bringing him in for me as a mentor for me and a D-line coach — has completely transformed my game, whether it’s the run or the pass rush. I’m very grateful.”
Jones’ dominant season has been a tide that raises all ships. The Chiefs finished the regular season with 55 total sacks — after only registering 31 in 2021.
Chiefs head coach Andy Reid joined his star pass rusher in appreciation for what Cullen has brought while noting Jones’ impressive approach last offseason.
“He worked tremendously hard in the offseason, and not that he hasn’t been, but it really worked hard at it,” Reid claimed of Jones. “I think he and Joe Cullen hit it off — and that’s they have a nice little thing going on there, chemistry-wise. I think that was a plus.
“Joe’s a master technician, especially in the pass rush game... I’m sure Chris would tell you that he gave him a couple of little things he could use, and Chris did the rest.”
Chiefs linebacker Nick Bolton’s 16 tackles on Saturday brought him to 180 on the season — narrowly edging legend Derrick Johnson’s 179 in 2011 for a team record. The second-year pro knows that he and fellow linebacker Willie Gay Jr. have easier jobs for the attention the superstar commands.
“[Jones] knows who he is,” Bolton declared. “He comes in every single day and tries to give his best — and that’s the only thing we can ask for. He plays three-tech, plays end, plays the pass, holds off double teams, [and] he keeps the linebackers clean.
“It’s been a benefit for me for sure — and also for Willie and the other guys and also the [defensive] linemen. We always know that Chris is going to get the slide, so our back side usually can get one-on-ones. It helps the back side generate pressure — that’s good for our defense as well.”
While the Chiefs (finally) turned in a dominant defensive performance, the real work starts in two weeks when Kansas City will host a Divisional Round playoff game. The defensive leaders remain unsatisfied with Saturday’s effort.
“We dropped a few interceptions,” Jones observed. “We let two to three quarterback runs get out past six to eight yards — we can be better in that area. But I think we played pretty good [for] the last week of the season.”
Bolton knows that his side will have to play even stronger if matched against the Buffalo Bills or Cincinnati Bengals — top teams who handed the Chiefs two of the three losses this season.
“Those games we didn’t tackle very well,” Bolton recalled. “And I didn’t tackle that good today. So just cleaning that up. I feel like those yards after catch from the playmakers on those two teams, especially — those can catch the ball and get vertical and make plays. So we’ve just got to tackle well in the playoffs to have a chance.”
When the Bengals upset the Chiefs in the AFC Championship last season, Jones missed several key opportunities against quarterback Joe Burrow. He is ready to begin a new postseason chapter.
“Last year stuck with me,” Jones admitted. “I had two critical plays that I should have made that I missed. And we know how the game went. This year, we’re eager to get after it — after the bye week, of course.”
In spite of much-criticized games earlier in the game, Jones expects the defensive momentum to continue — particularly for his defensive line room.
“Leading into the playoffs,” he explained, “it’s not about how you start — it’s how you finish. I think we finished in a good mind frame — [a] good place as a D-line overall.”