NASHVILLE – Josh Kalu said each time the Kansas City Chiefs kicked a field goal he got a little closer.
It took five attempts, but the second-year defensive back finally got there. Kalu came off the left side of the defense and blocked Harrison Butker’s 52-yard, game-tying attempt as time expired and preserved the Tennessee Titans’ 35-32 victory Sunday at Nissan Stadium.
“I’m reading (the snap), Kalu said. “It’s been the same thing the whole game. … I guess [I] timed it. Made a play. Whatever you want to call it, but I came off the edge and made a play for this team.”
Butker came into the game as the NFL’s leading scorer and fresh off a game-winning kick a week earlier against Minnesota. He made each of his first four field goal attempts against the Titans (in order: 30, 41, 43 and 39 yards) but missed an extra-point try in the third quarter. When he came back on the field with three seconds remaining – after his offense gained 28 yards on three plays to get into position – the best he could do was force overtime.
The Chiefs actually aborted one other field goal attempt a possession earlier, which would have stretched their five-point lead at the time to eight, because snapper James Winchester sent the ball to holder Dustin Colquitt earlier than expected. That forced Colquitt to throw it away, a move officials ruled was intentional grounding which gave the ball to Tennessee at its own 39. From there, it took the Titans four plays to score the go-ahead touchdown (a 23-yard pass from Ryan Tannehill to Adam Humphries) followed by a two-point conversion that made it a three-point advantage for the home team.
The next time, Winchester snapped it exactly when Kalu figured he would.
“He came off the edge like perfectly,” Kansas City wide receiver Tyreek Hill said. “So, good for him. Bad for us.”
Kalu’s block was the first by the Titans of an opponents’ field goal attempt in just over four years. The last to get one was Brian Orakpo, Nov. 8, 2015 against New Orleans.
It also was a significant moment for a player who spent the first 11 weeks of last season on the practice squad and the first eight weeks of this one on injured reserve with a high ankle sprain. Kalu was added to the active roster before last week’s loss at Carolina, where he made one tackle on special teams.
“This guy’s been working this entire season,” safety Kevin Byard said. “He was still coming in every single day, working out with the strength coach, staying ready. It’s just a testament to a guy staying patient and staying humble and understanding that when his moment comes, you go out there and make a huge play.”
Undrafted out of Nebraska in 2018, Kalu has appeared in just seven NFL games and has yet to make his first tackle on defense. Now, at least, he has made a name for himself.
“It was my opportunity to go make a play for the team,” Kalu said. “And I ended up making the play. … And big players make big plays. I guess I’m a big player now.”