Chandler Jones heard the whispers in the offseason. He silenced them Sunday.
Jones equaled the Cardinals’ franchise record for the most sacks in a single game, taking down Titans quarterback Ryan Tannehill five times in Arizona’s 38-13 win. He got busy early, getting a free rush at Tannehill and meeting him on the backside of a play-action fake from the right end, forcing a fumble that led to a Cardinals touchdown.
Then, he turned his attention to left tackle Taylor Lewan.
Jones rushed toward Lewan, engaging and ripping through Lewan’s extended arms to a sack of Tannehill. Four minutes later, he smoked Lewan, rushing right around him for another takedown of the Titans passer.
Three sacks in the first half. Five in three quarters. Two forced fumbles, both recovered by Arizona. Jones could not be stopped.
“Got my ass kicked today, no way around that,” Lewan tweeted after the game. “I let the team and the fans down. Thank you @chanjones55 for exposing me. It will only force me to get better.”
Entering Sunday, there was a theory that Jones might explode in 2021 thanks to the arrival of a legitimate running mate in J.J. Watt. Although it was Watt who first made an impact — pressuring Tannehill early and recording a tackle for loss on Derrick Henry to set Arizona’s defensive tone — it was Jones who ultimately proved that theory correct, at least for Week 1.
The end result was one for the record books. Jones became the first player to have three sacks in the first quarter of his team’s first game of the regular season, since individual sacks became an official stat in 1982. He finished with his second career game with four or more sacks and two or more forced fumbles, becoming the only player to accomplish the feat in the last 20 years, per NFL Research.
“It was one for the ages,” safety Budda Baker said, via the team’s official site.
Jones was in a bit of a contract dispute in the offseason, missing mandatory minicamp and avoiding discussing the matter publicly throughout the offseason. He arrived to training camp with what Cardinals coach Kliff Kingsbury said was “a chip on his shoulder, no doubt.” Cardinals receiver Christian Kirk referenced a team-sized chip on Sunday following the win.
That chip powered Jones to five sacks, a dream-like statistical start for a player in a contract year. The Cardinals hope it’s just the beginning for the 31-year-old.
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