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Titans’ Joshua Kalu played key role in both botched field goals on Sunday

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The Titans cornerback blocked the second one on Sunday, but may have played a role in the bad snap on the first one, too

NFL: Kansas City Chiefs at Tennessee Titans Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODAY Sports

Despite allowing the Tennessee Titans more than 200 rushing yards — and a defensive touchdown on a fumble by Damien Williams in the second quarter — the Kansas City Chiefs were still in position to win Sunday’s game.

Leading 32-27 with 1:27 left in the game, the Chiefs lined up for a 47-yard field goal attempt that would have given the Chiefs an eight-point lead.

But normally-reliable long snapper James Winchester and holder Dustin Colquitt had a miscommunication. Colquitt clearly wasn’t prepared to receive Winchester’s snap; he wasn’t even looking at Winchester when the ball arrived.

Quickly picking it up off the ground, Colquitt — under pressure from a Titans blocker — blindly threw the ball to the sideline. Since no Chiefs players were near where the ball landed, Colquitt was penalized for intentional grounding.

“I looked back, Dustin was looking forward, then I started to see him look back, but I had already started the snap,” said Winchester after the game. “I tried to hold it — but, yeah, it went fast. It was just miscommunication — and that starts with me. Now we have to take a look at it.”

NFL: Kansas City Chiefs at Tennessee Titans Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODAY Sports

The tape reveals Winchester remembers it correctly. Colquitt had indeed turned his head toward the line of scrimmage, but then briefly turned his head back toward the left side of the formation. His head came back around just as the ball arrived.

But what was it that attracted Colquitt’s attention on the left side of the line?

Reporters didn’t get the chance to ask the veteran punter on Sunday, but the tape shows Titans cornerback Joshua Kalu was lined up outside — in a position where he could get into the backfield essentially unblocked. That could have been what caught Colquitt’s eye.

In fact, Kalu did get into the backfield after the errant snap and was in Colquitt’s face by the time he had gotten to his feet with the ball. It’s easy to criticize the veteran punter for throwing the ball (and drawing the 10-yard penalty), but Kalu would have tackled him around the Titans 39-yard line — exactly where the ball was spotted after the penalty was walked off.

Kalu wasn’t finished — and he had a trick up his sleeve.

The Titans scored a touchdown and two-point conversion to take a 35-32 lead. Then Patrick Mahomes quickly led the Chiefs back into field goal range. With three seconds remaining, the Chiefs lined up for a 52-yard field goal attempt that would have tied the game.

But Kalu blocked it.

“I have no idea what happened on the last one,” long-snapper Winchester said in the locker room. “I’m not sure where [the block] came from, if it was around the corner, up the middle — I’m not sure. I don’t think it was A-gaps, but outside of that, I’d imagine it came off the edge.”

Winchester was right again.

This time lined up outside off the right edge of the Chiefs’ line, Kalu timed his jump perfectly — and was again nearly untouched into the backfield.

“He gives his cadence — and it’s the same cadence he’d been giving the whole game,” Kalu said. “I’d been getting closer and closer. Game on the line. Whether I jump offsides or not, it’s not going to make any difference. So I jumped it — and made a play.”

Kalu appeared to be admitting that he deliberately jumped offsides. But frame-by-frame analysis of the tape shows that Kalu still has his hand in the dirt as Winchester begins the snap motion. Kalu may well have gotten the better of the Chiefs field goal unit by paying attention to the cadence on the four field goals Harrison Butker made on the day — but he wasn’t offsides.

It’s not every day that an NFL team fails on two consecutive field goal attempts in less than two minutes of game time. But it’s rarer still for the same opposing player to figure so prominently in both of them.