KANSAS CITY, Mo. — A tour of the Kansas City Chiefs’ locker room at EverBank Stadium on Sunday afternoon felt similar to when people visit a world-class art museum.
Standing just outside the doors to the locker room were Jason Katz and Michael Katz, brothers and NFL agents. Each had his own facial expression of wonderment, eyes wide. They each kept repeating one word: “Wow.” One turn to the right was Mitch Holthus, the Chiefs’ beloved radio broadcaster who has announced every game for the past 30 seasons. Holthus was flabbergasted, shaking his head a few times to complete his reaction after what he just observed. Just a few feet inside the locker room was general manager Brett Veach.
“We needed that,” Veach said, his smile rather wide.
Deep inside the locker room was the person everyone was admiring: Chris Jones, a pass-rushing artist.
Surrounded by his happy teammates, Jones sat on his black folding chair without a shirt, just a red-white-and-yellow Chiefs ballcap on his head. He held an iPhone in each of his hands, one to control the trap music he played through the Chiefs’ large portable speaker and the other to read the reviews, on social media apps, of his magnificent performance. In one of the most memorable days of his eight-year career, Jones led the Chiefs to a much-needed 17-9 victory over the Jacksonville Jaguars, playing so well that everyone on the team acknowledged he was the biggest reason the Chiefs avoided a bleak 0-2 start.
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“He makes us 1,000 percent better, if I’m being honest, just his presence on the field,” linebacker Nick Bolton said of Jones.
“I mean … crazy,” quarterback Patrick Mahomes said of Jones. “I’m glad he’s on my team.”
“He, obviously, influenced the game in a positive way for us,” coach Andy Reid said. “That was a heck of a job by him.”
Just 10 days earlier, Jones had yet to participate in a practice with his teammates in preparation for this season. Jones sat between his two agents and watched the defending Super Bowl champion Chiefs lose to the Detroit Lions from an Arrowhead Stadium suite, the final act of his holdout. He returned to the team a few days later after signing a new one-year contract. His base salary remained steady at $19.5 million, but he can earn up to $25 million through incentives.
Jones had just three practices last week to prove to Reid that he was ready to play. The Chiefs hoped that Jones could play 30 snaps against the Jaguars.
In 24 snaps, Jones proved that he is still the Chiefs’ best defensive player. He was so destructive to the Jaguars’ pass-protection plan that they failed to score a touchdown. On 25 percent of his snaps, Jones generated pressure on quarterback Trevor Lawrence, according to TruMedia and Pro Football Focus. Jones finished with two tackles, 1 1/2 sacks and a pass breakup.
“For me, it was just another game, no pressure,” Jones said. “(It was) most important going out, having fun, enjoying my time back with these guys, and making sure we win the game.”
Heading back home with the DUB! pic.twitter.com/qqfepRyzXG
— Kansas City Chiefs (@Chiefs) September 17, 2023
Jones is determined to win the league’s Defensive Player of the Year award — and his impact against a strong Jaguars offense was impressive.
Lining up as a defensive end in the first quarter, Jones beat rookie right tackle Anton Harrison with a quick blend of power and speed, pressure that forced Lawrence up in a collapsing pocket. Mike Danna and George Karlaftis combined to sack Lawrence on the play, and Jones celebrated by pumping his right fist in the direction of the Jaguars’ sideline.
His first sack of the season came on a fourth-down play near midfield as he beat Harrison again before wrapping up Lawrence in three seconds.
“He’s an ultra competitor,” Bolton said of Jones. “Once again, the (opposing offensive line) is going to slide to Chris, so all the other guys get to eat off of that, as well.”
Even when Jones wasn’t close to Lawrence, the Chiefs defense was effective and opportunistic. Cornerback L’Jarius Sneed had two pass breakups and recovered a fumble on the next snap after one of the Chiefs’ three turnovers.
“The defense was incredible,” Mahomes said. “That’s a really good offense. For them to have a couple critical stops after we turned the ball over, the defense won that game. If that defense plays like that, we’re going to be a hard team to beat.”
Welcome back, Chris Jones 💪
— NFL (@NFL) September 17, 2023
Early in the fourth quarter, the Jaguars had the ball on the Chiefs’ 1-yard line for a first-and-goal play after a pass-interference penalty on safety Justin Reid. Bolton tackled Lawrence for a 3-yard loss and the Chiefs’ secondary led Lawrence to throw two incompletions, each time the ball landing beyond the end zone.
“I said it in training camp: This defense has a chance to be special,” Justin Reid said. “Everyone is solid, they know ball and they play hard. We put it on tape. If we stay healthy, this defense can be top five, easily. But we can’t just say it. We’ve got to keep earning it.”
Jones is known as the Chiefs’ closer, and his three biggest highlights ended three of the Jaguars’ possessions.
After halftime, Jones used his 6-foot-6 frame to deflect a pass on a third-down play to force the Jaguars into another punt. The Jaguars’ last possession ended in the red zone. In less than three seconds, on a third-and-10 play, Jones overwhelmed Harrison to hit Lawrence, collecting half of the sack with rookie defensive end Felix Anudike-Uzomah. Even when the Jaguars used two players, Harrison and rookie running back Tank Bigsby, to block him on fourth-and-12, Jones was able to defeat the double-team to rush Lawrence into an incompletion.
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“We’ve been building that ever since last year,” Jones said of rushing from the edge, crediting coordinator Steve Spagnuolo and defensive line coach Joe Cullen. “It’s more so about communication between us and the trust between us that I know my plays, that I know the defense inside and out and (them) being comfortable with me being able to get outside.
“That’s what I’m here for, especially plays like that. We’re just going to continue to pick up where we left off.”
With Jones’ hip-hop music booming in the locker room, many of the Chiefs commended him for seamlessly sliding back into the team’s weekly routine. Jones did so by motivating his teammates with short speeches and making everyone laugh in meetings, cornerback Trent McDuffie said. One of the most memorable moments of Wednesday’s practice came when Jones smiled when tight end Travis Kelce jumped to give him a celebratory shoulder bump before they hugged.
“I just wanted to make sure he felt that he’s every part of this (team),” Kelce said of Jones. “I love that guy. I just wanted to make sure that he knew that we were happy as hell to get him back out there on the field. His energy is needed.”
— Kansas City Chiefs (@Chiefs) September 17, 2023
Jones skipped all of training camp, the preseason and the first week of the season. Jones said he trained in Miami, doing two workouts each day with Pete Bommarito, his longtime trainer.
However, Jones’ first game since Super Bowl LVII was not played in ideal conditions. The weather when kickoff began was 89 degrees with 75 percent humidity, making the field feel closer to 100 degrees, the hottest game that McDuffie, a second-year player, said he’s ever played in.
Despite the heat, Jones was able to demonstrate his value to the Chiefs.
“He gave me my first welcome-to-the-NFL moment my rookie year,” right guard Trey Smith, laughing, said of Jones. “Sometimes, I think the average fan undervalues him. A lot of times today Chris was getting pressure that led to something else happening. The ability he has and what he brings to this team, it’s hard to measure.”
• Reid said receiver Kadarius Toney suffered a left foot injury midway in the fourth quarter. “It was bothering him a little bit,” Reid said. “We’ll check it out. He played most of the plays that he was supposed to be in on.”
(Photo: Nathan Ray Seebeck / USA Today)
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