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KANSAS CITY, Mo. Defensive lineman Chris Jones was playing his best football of the season for the Kansas City Chiefs when he was hit by COVID-19 and was knocked out of the lineup for a Week 15 game against the Los Angeles Chargers.
Jones said the illness and symptoms – for him congestion and body aches – set him back more than just the week he was out. They also influenced him in last week’s game against the Pittsburgh Steelers.
“This COVID thing is a challenging situation,” Jones said. “You’re forced to miss so many days. When you come back and you try to be in rhythm, and it kind of takes you out of your rhythm.
“You don’t really have the strength or endurance you had before. I try to get better every day.”
It’s important to the Chiefs that he does. At 11-4 and with two games to play, the Chiefs have a narrow lead over the Tennessee Titans (10-5) in the race for the AFC’s No. 1 playoff seed and the conference’s first round after the season goodbye. They reckon they need Jones at his best to get that first place.
The Chiefs have three games with zero kicks this season and all have come with Jones out of the ranks. He missed two games early in the season with an elbow injury and the most recent match with COVID-19.
The Chiefs’ four best games in terms of pass rush victory rate have come in the last five games, with the deviant being the most recent game against the Chargers.
That’s why the Chiefs are monitoring Jones closely.
“Just by looking and observing, it seems like every guy is affected a little differently [by COVID-19] whatever the reason, “Chiefs defensive line coach Brendan Daly said. There is no wide brush to paint there. You just have to work your way through it.
“I saw last week when we got him back to training, when we got him integrated into it, that there may be some endurance, some wind problems here. I would say he looks improved … he looks better except especially the first day we got him back from the COVID situation last week. “
Jones played fewer snaps than he would normally have against the Steelers, about half. Defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo said Jones’ reduced playing time had less to do with him getting out of COVID-19 and more to do with the game’s skewed character. Chiefs jumped out early for a big lead and won 36-10.
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Spagnuolo said the Chiefs would not restrict Jones this Sunday against the Cincinnati Bengals (13.00 ET, CBS) unless they believe he needs more rest.
“Hopefully we’re past it now,” he said.
Sunday’s game could be a big game for Jones and the rest of the Chiefs’ pass rushers. Cincinnati’s Joe Burrow has been fired 47 times, most among NFL quarterbacks.
“He has his way of getting out of trouble when needed,” Jones said. “We definitely need to be correct in terms of our angles this week and the way we collapse the pocket of this guy.”
It’s surprising that the Chiefs have not rushed the quarterback better when Jones is out of their lineup. They have a deep defensive line that includes Jones and three other players who at some point in their careers have had a season of 10 sacks.
“We’ve been able to have eight guys who contribute significantly,” Daly said. “We have received quality production from everyone in that group. You have great confidence in whoever you have put out there on the pitch and it has been able to keep us fresh and allow us to play well.”