Bengals left tackle Orlando Brown Jr. knows there won't be a "Welcome Back," sign for him at Arrowhead Stadium Sunday (4:25 p.m.-Cincinnati's Local 12), but he'd like to get a look at the Super Bowl Championship banner he helped put up there with his work for the Chiefs last season.
That includes the last-second win at Arrowhead in the AFC title game against the Cincinnati team with which he struck a four-year deal 47 days later.
But it's been business as usual at Paycor Stadium for what has become an annual event for the Bengals, a must-win in Kansas City against the Hall-of-Fame tandem of quarterback Patrick Mahomes and head coach Andy Reid.
Brown, who says he has no animosity towards the Chiefs, is more excited about the prospect of making the playoffs with his third different team he wants to make his last stop.
Pro Bowl wide receiver Ja'Marr Chase, questionable with a shoulder injury, is still needling the Chiefs secondary nearly two years to the day he set the NFL rookie record against it with 266 yards.
Chase went limited for the second straight day Friday as head coach Zac Taylor reminded everyone how just well defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo has his people playing, including said secondary, in a dynamic rush-and-cover scheme limiting foes to fewer than 18 points per game.
Which makes it a compelling day for a Bengals offensive line looking to even the score after Chiefs ubiquitous Pro Bowl pass rusher Chris Jones, the $25 million man, had five hits on quarterback Joe Burrow to go with two sacks, the last one on the Bengals' final play of the title game.
There is Brown, son of an AFC North tackle who saw the birth of his son while Face Timing on the bus pulling away from last Saturday's North game in Pittsburgh, involved in the closest playoff fight of his six NFL seasons trying to win a must game against his old mates.
There is center Ted Karras, along with left guard Cordell Volson, the only offensive line starter standing at last year's kickoff at Arrowhead, trying to pick out Jones' No. 95 that seemingly spins on an axis and never stays put in one spot across the front.
Karras also has an old mate on the other side in the Chiefs left guard, Kettering, Ohio's Joe Thuney, groomsman, roommate, and best of friends.
"We got drafted together and they put us as roommates right away," said Karras this week of the 2016 Patriots. "For four years we lived in a house in North Attleboro with 19 different Patriots. Great guy. You know. O-line, Midwest guy. Love his parents. They're still up the road in Dayton. One of the best players I've ever played with."
There is Jonah Williams, the left tackle who made the way for Brown and went to right tackle, enthused about the shot he never got last year in KC because he was one of three starting offensive linemen who ended the season on injured reserve.
Now the Bengals are one of a handful of teams with starters who have made very every game on the line and they've got their hands full with Jones. After playing the majority of last year's AFC title game inside, No. 95 lined up over right tackle Hakeem Adeniji on that final play, a third-and-eight, and got Burrow for the second time. The first one came over the inside.
"I've gone back and watched his tendencies this year. I'll take a look at that game, too," Williams said. "It's going to come down to winning one-on-ones. There are times they're just going to find a way to free him up."
Never mind the AFC title game.
"I've seen (Jones) wreck practices, too," said Brown, who went against him in training camp. "Special player. He's going to the Hall of Fame one day. It's amazing what he does. We've got to have all five sets of eyes on him. He's got an old-school body with height and weight (6-6, 310 pounds). He's really good using his hands. He's strong. He plays differently than guys his size. They don't play the way he does. He plays kind of high, too. It works out to his advantage."
When it comes to games like this, Karras thinks of his buddy Thuney. In the Super Bowl where the Patriots beat the Rams, Karras had Thuney for 18 one-on-ones against the Hall-of-Fame exhibit Aaron Donald and shut him out.
"That's big time," Karras said.
The Bengals have done that against Jones, too. In 2021, a month after he had two sacks in the regular-season loss, he was blanked in the title game.
"He plays all over the interior," Karras says. "A few years ago he played only tackle, but now he's playing both ends. We played well against him the first time last year, but not well enough for a Super Bowl bid."
Brown has never not been on a 10-win team since the Ravens took him in the 2018 third round. But even though his old Chiefs are a win away from a 10th win for another AFC West title and the Bengals need to win their last two to get to 10-7 for a Wild Card shot, Brown couldn't be happier here.
Brown played on the franchise tag last season in KC when he and the Chiefs couldn't reach a long-term deal and when he says the Chiefs came back with pretty much the same deal with no tag, he was drawn to the Bengals because of Burrow and Taylor's player-friendly style and reached out.
"He's been everything we thought and more," Karras said. "He's played well."
When the Bengals saw some money free up early in the first day or two of free agency, they struck with a $64 million offer that apparently had the guaranteed money Brown sought to assure his status as the long-term left tackle. He's thrilled to be the anchor of a line that has prided itself on getting to each starting gate under the guidance of offensive line coach Frank Pollack and offensive coordinator Brian Callahan, as well as Taylor, while being able to help Burrow backup Jaker Browning get three wins and stay in the playoff hunt.
"We're very blessed to have a great room. Not everyone has been healthy for every single game," Brown said. "When you've got the camaraderie we have and the toughness in our room, that goes a long way. It says a lot about Frank and his approach on the daily. And Zac and Cali have done a great job putting us in position, which makes it a lot easier."
Brown likes the big picture here.
"It was very hard for me there mentally, just because of the expectation, the daily work. It was different and a challenge for me," Brown said. "I wanted to be there. It was either the Chiefs or here. But ultimately, the chips fell here and I think it's a great fit for me and my family. We love the city and everything about the team."
No doubt, he says, the Bengals frustrated Brown's Chiefs with those three straight wins in 2021 and 2022 before KC prevailed in the title game.
"The battle in the trenches, the turnover battle, winning in the red zone. Those three things were the difference between winning and losing," Brown said. "It's always been a well-executed plan from the Bengals. The execution of this team come game time. (Defensive coordinator) Lou (Anarumo) always has a great plan to play 15 (Mahomes) and Coach Reid. It's come down to the last few last plays."
Karras let his guys know that they played well against Jones on Dec. 4, 2022 in the Bengals' regular-season win when he didn't have a hit on Burrow.
"Back in the 2021 game that the Bengals won (the AFC), he was disappointed in his effort," Brown said. "He took that seriously in the offseason and season. And really, the Bigs, we didn't play well in Cincinnati last year and it was a big game for him going into that AFC Championship with everything that was at stake for previous years."
Brown has played in enough won or done games (6-4 in the playoffs to know how the Bengals should approach Sunday's noise in and out of Arrowhead.
"We really don't have much to lose in my opinion," Brown said. "It's a unique situation where our starting quarterback, our franchise guy, has been out for a while and we're playing with Jake Browning. He's been able to come in and be a great quarterback in his few starts this year. The pressure really isn't on us. It's on these other teams. We really don't have a lot to lose."