NASHVILLE — Call it late-game heroics, redemption or just blind luck. The Tennessee Titans (1-0) narrowly escaped their season opener at Mile High against the Denver Broncos (0-1) on the foot of a kicker that nearly sank them.
Stephen Gostkowski missed three field goals from inside of 50 yards and an extra point to completely sabotage the visiting team for the better part of four quarters on national television. Then, from 25 yards out and with :17 seconds remaining in the game, redemption and the 16-14 win.
Yes, inside linebacker Rashaan Evans was ejected in the first quarter for throwing a punch and, yes, uncharacteristic penalties plagued Tennessee throughout. The kicking game that plagued this team a year ago, though, still has yet to be resolved as Gostkowski cost Mike Vrabel, Jon Robinson & Co. 10 points and likely their sanity.
“It’s definitely an opportunity I didn’t deserve but grateful I got it,” Gostkowski told media in a postgame Zoom. “I’m just happy that the guys got to celebrate and embarrassed and frustrated but at the end of the day we’re going home with the win.”
Yes, Stephen, you are correct. That opportunity should never have been afforded to you.
To his credit, Gostkowski took every question posed to him by the media in stride. He should be commended for it. At 36, the 14-year veteran left the New England Patriots coming off hip surgery but has told us prior he is in good health. The Titans gambled with their kicking situation in 2019, going 8-of-18 on the year and running through five different players at the position at various points.
It is easy to see how a team like Tennessee would opt for a player who boasts the kind of resume of Gostkowski does as a four-time Pro Bowler and two-time All-Pro. Gostkowski even moved to Franklin, TN this offseason so the choice might have seemed fairly obvious.
And, still, Gostkowski should be waived before the Titans home opener against the Jacksonville Jaguars on Sept. 20.
It is not like Tennessee played the perfect game. Missed field goals were not the only thing that held them down. A few uncharacteristic penalties sandbagged early drives and the Broncos did well to slow A.J. Brown and Derrick Henry early, keeping them comfortably in the game.
What was most impressive about this victory, though, was the resilience displayed across the board. Monday night, the Titans were able to rebound. Previous iterations of this franchise lose that game every time.
Kevin Byard’s forced fumble that Jeffery Simmons recovered produced Ryan Tannehill’s first passing touchdown. Corey Davis eclipsed 100 yards and got the Titans in position to score repeatedly despite Gostkowski squandering each of those opportunities from 47, 44 and 42 yards each while Henry was still warming up. Defensive adjustments were made in the second half to keep tight end Noah Fant from running wild through the Tennessee secondary.
“Plenty of stuff to get fixed,” said Vrabel after the game. “We’ve got a lot of faith in our players. Excited to get out of here with a win, this is a tough place to play.”
This remains a good football team, despite what they looked like in Week 1. Ultimately, the collective overcame a faulty, individual part in achieving their stated goal.
That faith, however, cannot blind them on the other side of this achievement. The Titans cannot entrust their fate to Gostkowski again.
Featured Image: Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports.