KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Kansas City Chiefs defensive end Frank Clark has no simple explanation for why he becomes one of the NFL’s all-time great pass-rushers in the postseason. But he readily acknowledges that it does happen.
“It just all comes together at that point,” Clark said after he logged 1.5 sacks in the AFC Championship Game victory over the Cincinnati Bengals. “I kind of get a little more freedom in the postseason. It’s win or go home. When you’ve got that mindset as a player and when you’ve got that mindset as a coach … that’s where it comes from. When I get to the postseason, I get that nod from Coach [Andy] Reid. It’s like, ‘Go ahead and do your thing.’
“There’s a reason they [brought] me here. I told the guys [the day before the game] I was going to set the tone from the start of the game to the end of the game.”
Counting the sack Clark had in the Chiefs’ divisional round playoff win over the Jacksonville Jaguars, he’s now third on the NFL’s career postseason list with 13.5. With one sack in Super Bowl LVII against the Philadelphia Eagles on Feb. 12, he would tie Hall of Famer Bruce Smith for second place. He would tie the all-time leader, Willie McGinest, with 2.5 sacks.
Clark isn’t the only Chiefs pass-rusher carving out a postseason legacy for himself. Chris Jones had a game for the ages against the Bengals. Though he was blocked by two players on a large percentage of plays, Jones still had two sacks, 10 pressures and five hits on quarterback Joe Burrow.
Jones had been preparing for a playoff rematch against the Bengals ever since he missed on some sack attempts on Burrow in last year’s AFC Championship Game, all of which were key plays in the Bengals’ overtime win.
“My whole offseason was dedicated to this game,” Jones said. “I missed a few big plays last year. They were able to move forward [to the Super Bowl] and I put that on my shoulders. I dedicated my whole offseason to making sure when the moment came for me again that I’d answer the call.”
Jones’ performance against the Bengals was hardly a breakout — he knocked down three passes in the Chiefs’ Super Bowl LIV win over the San Francisco 49ers — but the seven-year vet did reach a milestone.
Despite two years with 15.5 sacks, including this season, and 65 career sacks in the regular season, Jones had been shut out in sacks in 13 career postseason games. Until the AFC Championship Game.
“I personally do not care about sacks in the playoffs,” Jones said. “My job is to make sure that I play hard, I play physical and [help] my teammates around me make plays, whether it’s taking the double team the whole game or whether it’s getting the one-on-one and winning.
“Me being doubled means the guys around me are able to get single blocks and I’m able to open up the game for a lot of individuals on the line of scrimmage. If you take the me out of it and the selfish aspect out of it, you’re a friend of your teammates and it’s not meant for you to make all the sacks all the time, as much as I’d love to. Sometimes it’s about you freeing up other players so they can excel.”
Jones’ performance against the Bengals is the only playoff game since the pass rush win rate statistic was introduced in 2017 in which at least 80% of a player’s rushes came against a double team and the player went on to record multiple sacks. The Bengals blocked Jones with two players on 82% of his rushes.
“He’s so good,” Burrow said afterward. “He makes it so hard on you. 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 rush plan. They let their big-time pass-rushers go to work.”
Clark called Jones “the most unstoppable man in football,” and with the way Jones is playing, he has a case. No player during the regular season posted a higher pass rush win rate (21.5%) as an interior defender than Jones.
No interior defender was double-teamed more often than Jones (69%). Of his pass rushes, 342 were against two blockers, the most in the league. He still finished fourth in the league with his 15.5 sacks.
“He had a huge impact,” Reid said about the Bengals game. “He was relentless and he did it against the run and he did it against the pass and just playing. He’s done this all year. He’s played tremendous football all year.”
The Chiefs had struggled to sack Burrow in recent games against the Bengals. They sacked him once in last year’s AFC title game and once in a regular-season meeting this year in Week 13.
In those games, Clark was bothered by a stomach ailment that at times has kept him out of the lineup, though he played each time.
“Me being healthy,” Clark said when asked why the Chiefs were able to sack Burrow so frequently this time. “It’s that simple.”
Clark has at least one sack in seven of the 11 playoff games in which he’s played for the Chiefs. He had at least one sack in all three postseason games in 2019, including the Super Bowl win over the 49ers.
He’s on a similar streak so far in this postseason with one game remaining.
“He’s peaking at the right time,” Jones said. “Frank has been playing out of his mind, run game and pass game. He’s doing what he’s been doing for years in the playoffs. His name in the playoffs speaks for itself.
“We’ve got to keep Frank going, keep him bringing them down.”