PHOENIX – Chris Jones claims to have very little memory of a relatively benign game in 2017, when the Kansas City Chiefs welcomed the Philadelphia Eagles to Arrowhead Stadium for the second game of the regular season.
Jason Kelce remembers it quite well.
The veteran Philadelphia center spent the afternoon lining up alongside Isaac Seumalo, who Jones proceeded to whip from start to finish. Then a relatively unknown second-year defensive tackle, Jones piled up three sacks that day.
“(Seumalo) played a guy early on that nobody knew about then that was, you know, the best defensive tackle in the NFL," Kelce recalled. "I mean, I sure remember going into that game and we didn't really talk much about Chris, to be honest with you. We didn't have much of a plan for him because we thought it wasn't going to be much of a big deal.
“And man," Kelce said, "Isaac had a hard outing.”
You can bet the Eagles will have a better plan for dealing with Jones in the Super Bowl on Sunday.
In five-plus years since that game in Kansas City, the affable pass rusher has grown to rival the Rams' Aaron Donald as just what Kelce said: the NFL's best defensive tackle. He's gone to the past four Pro Bowls, was voted second-team All-Pro three times and, this year, earned first-team honors along with being a finalist for AP Defensive Player of the Year.
He will learn whether he takes home that hardware at the NFL Honors on Thursday night.
“He's so good, man. He makes it so hard on you,” said Bengals quarterback Joe Burrow, who was sacked twice by Jones in the AFC title game. “He's so big and strong. Physical. He really understands what you're trying to do to him up front.”
In truth, nobody has quite figured out what to do with him.
Jones had 15 1/2 sacks this season, despite facing constant double teams, matching the 2018 season for the best of his career. He trailed only the 49ers' Nick Bosa, the Browns' Myles Garrett and the Eagles' Haason Reddick for the NFL lead.
Jones also was a big reason why the Chiefs, one of the league's worst at rushing the passer last season, suddenly became one of the best. They had 55 sacks in the regular season to trail only their Super Bowl opponent for the league lead.
“He opens up a lot of opportunities for a lot of those guys inside, especially when he's causing so much attention to come his way,” said Chiefs defensive end Frank Clark, who has 2 1/2 sacks in this postseason. “We speak on it and harp on it a lot with the interior guys, you know, like, ‘Is Chris getting double-teamed?’"
That's usually the best approach; Jones seems to end up near the quarterback anyway.
"He's a game-wrecking-type force up front," Bengals offensive coordinator Brian Callahan said. “You have to be aware of where he lines up. He lines up at end, up the shade and the three (technique). He's an extremely disruptive player, so you do everything you can to minimize him, but he's going to have one at some point.”
The task for the Eagles — and what the Bengals failed to do — is limit Jones to just one big play.
“He's a fantastic player,” Callahan said, “and he's not fun to have to get ready for.”
He's fun to have in the locker room, though. Jones is among the most light-hearted Chiefs, constantly trying to get guys to smile. He once showed up at practice shortly before Christmas in an ugly sweater with a stitched picture of Jesus carrying the label “Birthday Boy." His own smile seems to stretch from one end of the room to the other.
On the field, though, that good-natured goof suddenly becomes a colossus.
All of that explains why the Chiefs lavished on the 28-year-old Jones an $80 million, four-year deal a couple of years ago, which included a $1.25 million bonus when Jones hit 10 sacks this season. His salary cap hit is tops among defensive tackles, edging Donald and DeForest Buckner, yet somehow seems like a bargain given his production. And with one year left on the contract after Sunday, there's a good chance the Chiefs will begin talking about an extension soon.
If they haven't started those discussions already.
In the meantime, Jones will try to capture a second Super Bowl ring when the Chiefs take on the Eagles on Sunday. He knows that much of their success will depend on whether he can pressure Philadelphia quarterback Jalen Hurts, whose uncanny ability to shred defenses with his arm and legs make him difficult to defend.
“Every week is a challenge for me, especially when you’re playing in the Super Bowl. It's the best of the best,” Jones said Wednesday. “So we’re very fortunate. We’re excited about it. Jason Kelce and that amazing offensive line — we got to see what type of pressure we can bring against it.”
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