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AP photo by Mark Zaleski / Tennessee Titans defensive back Joshua Kalu blocks a 52-yard field-goal attempt by Kansas City Chiefs kicker Harrison Butker on the final play of Sunday's game in Nashville.

NASHVILLE — It's not as if Tennessee Titans defensive back Joshua Kalu had never made a memorable special teams play before.

The former Nebraska Cornhuskers star recalled blocking field-goal attempts against both Iowa and Purdue during his college days in the Big Ten.

But prior to Sunday afternoon at Nissan Stadium, he'd never before blocked one to guarantee his team a victory.

"That's the first time I've ever been on the bottom of a celebration pile," Kalu noted.

It all changed against the Kansas City Chiefs. With the Titans clinging to a 35-32 lead that in and of itself was rather remarkable, Harrison Butker lined up for a 52-yard kick with three seconds to play that, if good, would force overtime.

And given Kansas City's remarkable offensive weapons surrounding — and including — quarterback Patrick Mahomes, overtime would probably have favored the visitors.

Kalu thought he could make sure his team avoided that scenario, though. All afternoon he'd been timing the Chiefs' cadence on Butker's four field goals made to that point. Kalu was confident he'd block the final attempt.

"I was getting closer and closer and closer," he said of his aggressive charges from the right side of KC's offensive line. "Game on the line, whether I jump offsides or not, it's not going to make any difference. So I jumped it."

This time, he timed it perfectly. Launching his body horizontally toward the path he expected the ball to travel, he blocked it with his left hand, a block to save a game and possibly a season. And, almost instantly, a block to put him on the bottom of a celebration pile that was as big as any witnessed at this stadium since the Music City Miracle playoff win against Buffalo almost 20 years ago.

"Huge play," second-year coach Mike Vrabel said after watching his team improve to 5-5 heading into its bye week.

Said Titans safety Kevin Byard: "Awesome win. This just shows that no matter what happens, we keep fighting. This was one of those games where we made all the big plays when we needed it."

Beyond Kalu's block, there were almost too many big plays to count.

There were the two rushing touchdowns by Derrick Henry, covering 68 yards and 1 yard, that kept the home team in the game each time.

There was former reserve quarterback Ryan Tannehill — elevated to starter in place of struggling Marcus Mariota last month — throwing two touchdowns, including the 23-yard winner to Adam Humphries with 23 seconds to play.

There was the defense, spearheaded by former Alabama star Rashaan Evans' 53-yard fumble return for a touchdown.

Mostly, to return to Byard's observation that the Titans always keep fighting, there were all those comebacks during the game. KC led 10-0 early. It led 19-13. It led 29-20 with less than 12 minutes to go, then 32-27 with 3:14 to play.

Yet those deficits were never big enough to do in the home team, despite a Chiefs crowd that seemed at least as large as those folks cheering for the Titans.

And there seems to be a feeling that Tannehill — who completed 13 of 19 passes for 181 yards without throwing an interception — might be just the QB the Titans need.

For proof, merely listen to Humphries' recollection of that final drive: "We knew we needed a touchdown and we knew we had a tough quarterback who could step up in the pocket and make plays, and we believed in him and believed in our offensive line."

Is this the start of something big? Not necessarily. The Titans have teased before. Often.

"The issue of what has been in the past is the consistency level," said tackle Taylor Lewan, who's consistently been on the wrong side of the referees' laundry this year, leading the team in penalties with nine despite missing the first four games after testing positive for a banned substance. "It's been a roller-coaster, and we need to be better about this."

They do. Ten games along, they've yet to have a winning streak longer than two or a losing streak longer than two. Both stats carry obvious positives and negatives.

But at least Sunday ended on a big positive for the Titans.

"Pure joy," Kalu called it. "Infinite adrenaline. Just happy. And not even for me but for the team, because we really needed it."

Someone asked him if the block was his No. 1 moment in athletics.

"No, it's second," he said.

The first?

Breaking into a wide smile, the 24-year-old Kalu, who grew up in Houston, replied, "When my mother came to watch my first high school football game."

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Mark Wiedmer

Contact Mark Wiedmer at mwiedmer@timesfreepress.com. Follow him on Twitter @TFPWeeds.

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