Kansas City defensive tackle Chris Jones urges the crowd to make noise during the first half of the AFC championship game against the Cincinnati Bengals on Sunday. Reed Hoffmann/Associated Press

As he considered the endless trash talk radiating out of Cincinnati last week, Chiefs defensive end Frank Clark effectively just shrugged. Like the rest of the Chiefs almost unanimously did. At least publicly.

Because the Bengals, as they’d relentlessly remind with that foolishly inflammatory “Burrowhead” stuff, had indeed upended the Chiefs three times in a row – including in last season’s AFC championship game.

“When you have the win, you have the last laugh; they have the last laugh right now,” Clark said last week.

“All we can do is look forward to the matchup that we have this Sunday and get our laugh back.”

It wasn’t hard to surmise, though, that this eerily calm collective disposition was a veneer. Behind the curtain, each unreciprocated insult was kindling being stoked into a critical mass by game time. And it was fire ultimately converted into very much getting their laugh back with a 23-20 victory that propelled them into their third Super Bowl in four years and a showdown with Philadelphia on Feb. 12 in Glendale, Arizona.

The latest last laugh was nicely demonstrated by Clark puffing a victory cigar as he swaggered into the stadium tunnel and into the Chiefs’ locker room. Clark, whose 13.5 postseason sacks are the third most in NFL history, no doubt was channeling Cincinnati quarterback Joe Burrow’s well-known post-victory habit.


But perhaps having the laugh track back flashed most in the postgame news conference with defensive lineman Chris Jones, whose ferocious play was befitting of The Associated Press AFC defensive player of the year favorite that he is.

“The most unstoppable man in football,” Clark called him after Jones uncorked two sacks – somehow the first of his postseason career – along with five quarterback hits and 10 pressures.

Jones entered the room with a grin and two stuffed animals appended to his jacket in response to Burrow’s pregame arrival wearing a T-shirt depicting a teddy bear with the word “sorry” on its own shirt.

Having seen Burrow’s getup, Jones said, “I was, like, ‘I can’t let him outdo me,’ right? So I had to bring out a teddy bear.”

Outdoing Burrow, though, was about a lot more than that sartorial jab. As much or more than any other Chief, Jones had embraced the anguish of last season’s second-half collapse against the Bengals.

Asked in the offseason to assess his play last season, Jones immediately condensed it all into missing key potential sacks of Burrow in the Chiefs’ final game – including one in the fourth quarter after having both hands on Burrow’s shoulder pads.


“I missed some of the biggest plays of the game,” Jones said then. “I used it as motivation the whole offseason. I feel like if I would’ve made those sacks, the game would’ve been different. I take accountability for that.

“Attack it; use it as motivation going into next year.”

Along the way toward achieving that with a 151/2-sack regular season recognized by the prestigious Committee of 101 (101 national media members) as deserving of AFC defensive player of the year, Jones frequently credited new defensive line coach Joe Cullen and other assistant coaches with helping refine his game.

Not to mention pointing to defensive line teammates for their own unselfishness and defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo for scheming ways to make Jones more able to exert his influence.

Then again, Cullen will tell you that Jones “has things that I can’t coach,” such as his size and athleticism.

Between all that and the fact Jones “kept chopping, one day at a time,” as Cullen put it, the 28-year-old Jones led the Chiefs to a remarkable turnaround in sacks produced (from 31 in 2021 to 55 in 2022) with his best all-around season – a season Cullen believed Jones had to have for the Chiefs to get back to this rarefied place.


That notion became all the more vital in the postseason, particularly given the quirky gap in Jones’ statistical game: zero sacks registered in 13 career playoff games.

According to research done by Ryan Satsky of CBS, Jones had played the most postseason snaps (560) without a sack of any defensive lineman in the last decade.

So if the Chiefs’ win Sunday was about redemption, from a team standpoint to the individual likes of Patrick Mahomes (in the context of last season’s AFC title game) and Skyy Moore and Harrison Butker, maybe nobody got more vindication out of it than Jones with an opportunity seldom so directly confronted.

It wasn’t just that the Chiefs were back at the same stage where they fell off last season. It’s that they were up against Burrow and the Bengals, the very forces that bubbled within Jones for the better part of a year.

“My whole offseason was dedicated to this game,” Jones reiterated Sunday night. “I missed a few big plays last year. (It’s) unfortunate they were able to move forward, and I put that on my shoulders. So this offseason, I dedicated my whole offseason to making sure that when that moment calls, for me again, specifically, that I’ll answer the call.”

His sack of Burrow in the last minute forced the final Bengals punt. Which led to Moore’s 29-yard punt return. Which enabled Mahomes’ run and the ensuing penalty that set up Butker’s winning field goal.


Jones is “so good. He makes it so hard on you,” said Burrow, who was sacked five times after being brought down just once in last season’s title game. “He’s so big, strong and physical. He really understands what you’re trying to do to him up front. You have to give them credit, they had a really good (pass) rush plan. They let their big-time pass rushers go to work.”

Afterward, Jones seemed more focused on the win and the “Burrowhead” matter – “don’t ever, ever, ever,” he said, “disrespect Arrowhead Stadium” – than on his own personal breakthrough. Albeit smiling, he dismissed the notion that the empty sack count had made for any weight on him.

“It’s been a lot made by (the media); y’all make it bigger than what it is,” he said. “I really personally do not care about stats in the playoffs. … I think you guys blow it out of proportion. It doesn’t really matter to me, but I’m (glad) that you guys can have another story that Chris Jones finally got a sack.”

Then he chuckled. And why not?

Because after fending off the Bengals at last, Jones and the Chiefs have that laugh back now … even as the real last one remains to be determined in Arizona.

Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or login first for digital access. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.