Maybe, just maybe, in his fourth season, Chiefs defensive end Tyson Jackson is turning into the impact player the club envisioned when he was the third overall pick of the 2009 NFL Draft.
No longer does Jackson head for the sidelines when the Chiefs go in to their nickel defense. In the last two games, against Denver and Carolina, he teamed with rookie tackle Dontari Poe as the two interior linemen on passing downs.
And Jackson responded with two of the most productive games of what has otherwise been considered an underachieving career.
In Sunday's 27-21 win over Carolina, Jackson matched his season's best with five tackles, recorded his second sack of the season and batted down a third-down pass by Cam Newton on the most crucial fourth-quarter defensive series of the game.
A week earlier, Jackson had three tackles and took down Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning, who was attempting a pass - but because Manning was credited with a 1-yard rush, statistically it was not ruled a sack.
"Tyson has been good all year," Chiefs coach Romeo Crennel said. "A lot of times people are watching the ball, and they don't always watch what goes on in the trenches. Tyson has always been a consistent player for us, and every time he goes out there, he does what we ask him to do, and he competes very well.
"We're just asking him to do a little bit more, and he's doing more."
Crennel said he decided to utilize Jackson instead of Allen Bailey on passing downs because teams started running the ball successfully against the nickel defense.
Consequently, Jackson participated in a season-most 55 snaps - or 86 percent of the Chiefs' defensive plays against Denver. In fact, Jackson has seen his most action of the season in the last two weeks. He was in on 73 percent of the team's plays against Carolina. Twice this year, he had been on the field for less than 50 percent of the plays.
"It's awesome, getting sacks and getting quarterback pressures," said Jackson, whose two sacks this season matched the total for his first three seasons. "It's definitely a different feeling than just holding those offensive linemen up so our linebackers can make plays.
"But to be quite honest, I'm a team player. Whatever I can to help our team out, I'm all for it."
In the base 3-4 front, Jackson's primary responsibility is to do the dirty work and occupy blockers so inside linebackers are free to make tackles. But as a down lineman in the nickel, Jackson is free to go after the passer, even if he doesn't get the sack.
Jackson's pressure up the middle against the Broncos, when he mauled Denver center Dan Koppen, kept Manning from stepping up in the pocket and allowed Justin Houston to pick up a sack.
"I understood my role in the defense," Jackson said. "They had guys on the team who could affect the quarterback better than I could at particular times on third down. I know for sure I was a first- and second-down type of guy who could go out there and stop the run. I'm trying to embrace whatever the coaches throw my way right now to help our defense get some three-and-outs and some stops to get our offense the ball.
"The sacks are nice, but I'd trade those to get a win."
The win over Carolina came in the aftermath of last Saturday's murder-suicide by linebacker Jovan Belcher, and now the Chiefs have the difficult task of coping with their grief while preparing for this Sunday's trip to Cleveland.
"I think the win means a lot more than just a win for us," Jackson said after the Carolina game. "Emotionally, it is helping us a little more. . . . It was enough to help us ease our minds. Everybody relied on the man next to him, and that's how we were able to get the job done."
It's uncertain if the Chiefs will be relying on Jackson, 26, much longer. They restructured his contract in the offseason, and his base salary for 2013 would be $14.72 million, with $3.22 guaranteed. So unless the two sides work out another new deal, Jackson may not be in Kansas City next year.
"I'll leave that up to the front office and my agent and let them take care of the business part of the deal," said Jackson. "I would love to be back. I really love the Chiefs, I love the organization, I love the fans.
"This year has been a rough year, but we still have a few games to go to get some wins under our belt and finish our season on a bright note."