KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Empower Field at Mile High was a slippery, sloppy patch of turf Saturday as the Kansas City Chiefs wrapped up the regular season at the Denver Broncos.
That left Chiefs rookie linebacker Nick Bolton hoping to avoid a Daniel Jones moment as he dashed down the newly laid sod in the middle of the field on the game-winning 86-yard fumble return touchdown in the closing minutes of a 28-24 victory.
“I was hoping that he wouldn’t stumble,” Chiefs coach Andy Reid said. “Those guys don’t get a chance to run that far that fast very often. He ran it like a stallion. He took off and looked like a running back there.”
He avoided having a moment like Jones, the New York Giants' quarterback who lost his balance on a long run and made the blooper reel after stumbling to the turf in a Week 7 game against Philadelphia last season.
Still, the soggy field conditions were on Bolton’s mind.
“Probably around the 50-yard line, I had seven studs in for the field, and I was slipping a little bit,” Bolton said. “At that point, I was just trying to get to the end zone, so I was happy to get to the end zone to get a touchdown and help us win.”
Melvin Ingram III, who was acquired for a sixth-round pick in a midseason trade with Pittsburgh, had popped Melvin Gordon III and dislodged the ball around the Chiefs’ 14-yard line.
That play prevented the Broncos from building on a 21-20 lead.
When Bolton scooped up the loose ball and hit former University of Missouri-Columbia teammate Drew Lock with a spin move before motoring toward the other end zone, it also assured Kansas City would leave Denver with a win.
Bolton’s first career defensive score is tied for the fourth-longest fumble return for a touchdown in team history and is the longest in the NFL this season.
“Coach Spags (defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo) called a great blitz,” Bolton said.
A two-time All-SEC performer at linebacker for the Tigers, the Chiefs picked Bolton in the second round last season, hoping to add athleticism to a linebacking corps that needed it.
Bolton has only started 12 games, played fewer than half the snaps on defense during the last half of the season and missed a Week 16 win against Pittsburgh.
Despite that, Bolton leads the Chiefs with 112 tackles, which ranked fifth in franchise history for a rookie. He’s the first rookie to lead Kansas City in tackles since Dino Hackett in 1986.
“He’s had a pretty good rookie year, I’d say,” Reid said. “After 17 games playing, that’s not the easiest thing to do as a rookie, but he’s taken advantage of that.”
Reid said he’s also taken advantage of fellow linebacker Anthony Hitchens’ wisdom and tutelage throughout the season.
“He’s a humble kid,” Reid said. “He knows what he doesn’t know, and he’s willing to work on it. There’s something to be said about that, so he’s continued to do that throughout the season, and I would imagine he’ll do it throughout his career. That’s something that you need to keep as you move forward. It’s a great tool to have, a mental tool to have.”