In an improbable finish, one of the most unlikely players on the Titans’ roster stepped up and save Sunday’s 35-32 comeback win over the Kansas City Chiefs, and perhaps saved the season in the process.
Josh Kalu came off the left edge and blocked a 52-yard field goal try by Kansas City’s Harrison Butker that would have sent the game to overtime, just a few seconds after the Titans had taken the lead driving 61 yards on four plays in just 58 seconds. Ryan Tannehill hit Adam Humphries with a 23-yard TD pass with 23 seconds left to put the Titans back in front, 33-32. Tannehill then called his own number on a two-point conversion run-pass option to give Tennessee a three-point lead that would hold up, thanks to Kalu’s block.
At 5-5, the Titans, who have not really been in control of their own destiny since about week three, have evened their record heading into a bye week.
Kalu, who was just activated off injured reserve two weeks ago after recovering from a high ankle sprain, was ecstatic in the Titans locker room after his big play. He said he had an idea about when the snap would take place, and timed it correctly.
“I was just going off the kicker, and whatever little thing they have going on. It’s been the same thing the whole game. Big players make big plays, and I guess I’m a big player now,” Kalu said.
The big play Chiefs (6-4), who had quarterback Patrick Mahomes back from a knee injury, saw him throw for 446 yards on 36 of 50 throws with three scores Sunday.
The Titans knew they would need some big plays from all three phases to stay in the contest. And they got them.
“We haven’t been consistent this year. We haven’t played our best football at times, but we battled our (expletives) off. Every single game, no matter what happens, we’ve battled our (expletives) off. And I think today was a pure testament of it,” safety Kevin Byard said.
Tennessee trailed 10-0 when Tannehill found Khalif Raymond for a 52-yard pass play in the second quarter to set up its first scoring opportunity. Tannehill capped the drive with a 9-yard TD throw to Anthony Firkser.
The Titans took their first lead of the day, when Austin Johnson forced a fumble, and linebacker Rashaan Evans returned it 53 yards for the go-ahead touchdown. The PAT missed wide left, and the score stayed at 13-10.
The explosive Chiefs tied the game at 13-all at the half on Butker’s 41-yard field goal, and the regained the lead when Mahomes found Tyreek Hill from 11 yards out in the third period. The point after was no good, leaving Kansas City up 19-13.
But the Titans answered with another big play, getting a 68-yard TD jaunt from Derrick Henry.
“Once I saw the whole defense overflow, I just cut back and saw the seam. My eyes got big. I broke a tackle and the rest is history,” Henry said.
But the Titans’ lead would be short-lived as the Chiefs anwered with a 43-yard Butker field goal and then opened the fourth quarter with a 63-yard pass from Mahomes to Mecole Hardman, who outraced the Titans secondary to the end zone for a 29-20 lead. On the play, Mahomes escaped trouble in the pocket and threw a jump pass that hit Hardman right in stride for the score.
The Titans got back into the game using their running game, even down two scores in the fourth quarter. Henry ran the ball seven times for 39 yards, and Tannehill added two more runs – one off a scramble – as the Titans cut into the lead. Henry, who ran 14 yards to the 1, finished off the drive with a 1-yard touchdown as Tennessee trimmed the lead to 29-27 with 6:26 to play.
Kansas City added a Butker 39-yard field goal go push the lead to five points.
On the next series, the Titans’ offense went nowhere, even going for a fourth-and-17 in their own territory after the two-minute warning with no success.
Somehow, the Titans dodged that bullet, as the Chiefs ran the ball twice and Mahomes slid down on third down trying to pass, forcing a 46-yard field goal try. The snap came sooner than punter Dustin Colquitt expected and was low. With the play botched, Colquitt chucked the ball downfield, but was called for intentional grounding. It gave the Titans possession of the ball at their own 39 with 1:21 to go.
That’s when Tannehill put together the game-winning drive, one that took the Titans downfield quickly, with a key scramble for 18 yards, combined with a 20-yard completion to Anthony Firkser before the game-winner to Humphries and the ensuing two-point conversion.
“There’s a strong belief that no matter what happens, that as long as we are within a scoring chance, we’re going to find a way to win. It was a team effort. We get off the field after going for it with less than two minutes to go. The defense comes up huge obviously and special teams made some really big plays on those field goals,” said Tannehill, who was 13 of 19 for 181 yards and two touchdowns. “To battle back like that and find a way to win, it’s a ton of fun.”
Coach Mike Vrabel was pleased with how the Titans stayed in the game and battled back to win just before their bye week next week.
“Guys have stepped up, and we’ll have to get healthy and come back and be ready to make this push here with these six games,” Vrabel said. “I felt like we got ourselves back into position. Now, the next step. We’ve been at this point before, and so it’s going to be critical that we do everything we can to take that next step.”