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Front Page - Friday, September 22, 2023

Veteran Folk stabilizes kicking game

Tennessee Titans place-kicker Nick Folk celebrates after kicking the game-winning field goal Sunday against the Los Angeles Chargers. The performance won Folk AFC Special Teams Player of the Week honors. - Photo by John Amis | Associated Press

In the aftermath of the Titans’ first win in 10 months, defeating the Los Angeles Chargers 27-24 in overtime, a funny but respectful comment came from defensive tackle Jeffery Simmons.

“You dang right. It felt wonderful, man. We haven’t won a game since the Packers. Today, it’s amazing,” Simmons says. “Hell of a job by the offense, and Granddad on the team, Nick (Folk), going out to make the kick.”

“Granddad” is how Simmons referred to 38-year-old place-kicker Nick Folk, whose 41-yarder in the rain in overtime lifted the Titans to that long-elusive victory.

Folk was acquired by the Titans from the New England Patriots on cutdown day in exchange for a conditional seventh-round pick.

At the time, the move was seen as a stopgap measure at best and a desperation move at worst for a team that has gone through kickers like the Kardashians through boyfriends.

Just in this year’s training camp, the Titans rolled through Caleb Shudak, Trey Wolff and Michael Badgley (in his second brief stint in Tennessee) before acquiring Folk, who is in the final year of his contract and lost a kicking competition to a younger, stronger leg in New England.

Folk’s arrival in Nashville came with a bit of a caveat, as the Titans also signed former Browns kicker Cade York to the practice squad as a younger, perhaps longer-term option to be their kicker.

But for now, “Granddad” isn’t ready to start cashing Social Security checks. Folk has proven to be an answer to the Titans’ prayers in the early part of the season, going a perfect 7-for-7 on field goals. In the season opener, he provided all the scoring with five field goals in New Orleans. And Sunday, he was on point at the end of the first half and then in overtime on his two kicks, a touchback to start the extra session and then the game-winner.

“Anytime you get a chance to win the game is kind of fun. That’s what I live for on Sundays,” Folk says. “I try to treat every kick the same. So, you know, I had a good day going with a few extra points and a field goal already. I felt like I was in a pretty good rhythm.”

Folk entered the NFL way back in 2007 with the Dallas Cowboys, and the Titans are his fifth stop in 17 seasons in the league. And even the one concern the Titans had about Folk appeared to be answered Sunday. Only 9% of Folk’s kickoffs last year for the Patriots resulted in touchbacks. But Sunday at Nissan Stadium, his kickoffs found the end zone four times out of five.

With so much experience, Folk says he has learned a lot, but that doesn’t mean he still can’t learn new things.

“There’s a lot you can lean on and learn from every kick. Every kick I’ve learned something good or bad. So I just try to take the good and move on and learn from the bad,” he says.

Mike Vrabel, who has seen the team sift through no less than 14 kickers since he became the Titans’ head coach in 2018, seems to have one attitude when it comes to kicks – make them. No excuses, no alibis. Make them.

After going through that many kickers, trying to find the right one, Folk has obliged.

“He’d been really good. That’s what he’s done and that’s what you need in this league, is a guy that’s reliable in critical situations,” Vrabel says.

So what about the nickname he now has, courtesy of Simmons?

“That’s fine. I’m OK with that,” Folk says. “I’m late to do this stuff (interviews) because of the cold tub. I’m probably the only one in the cold tub. But I’ve got to take care of myself to get ready to go next week.”