DENVER — A day after Tom Brady’s dud of a debut for Tampa Bay, Stephen Gostkowski failed to put all that Patriots pedigree to work in his first game with the Tennessee Titans.
Body text: Until the very end.
Unlike Brady, who lost his first game in a uniform other than New England’s, Gostkowski prevailed Monday night when he nailed a 25-yard field goal with 17 seconds left, sending the Titans past the Denver Broncos 16-14 after he missed four kicks for the first time in his career.
“I really wanted to come out and make a strong first impression,” Gostkowski said. “I did the exact opposite.”
Gostkowski missed a kick in each quarter, including a blocked field goal and an errant extra point.
It didn’t matter in the end.
“We’re happy to get a win,” Titans quarterback Ryan Tannehill said. “Any win in the NFL is a good win. I’ll take it. They don’t put any asterisks on it in the win column.”
Titans coach and ex-teammate Mike Vrabel said he had no qualms about sending Gostkowski out for another try,
“Nope, and they did, obviously, because they weren’t using their timeouts and they were banking on him missing,” Vrabel said. “We’ve all got to do our job. And again, it’s not on just one player. We’ll get this stuff fixed. 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.”
Gostkowski missed every way you can think of: wide left, wide right, a block and a shanked extra point that loomed large until he atoned for his awful night in the final seconds.
“You can’t expect him to miss them all,” said Broncos defensive lineman Jurrell Casey, who was traded from Tennessee in the offseason.
Gostkowski never missed three field goals in a game during his 14 seasons in New England, where he won three Super Bowl rings, made four Pro Bowls and left this offseason as the Patriots’ all-time leading scorer.
On Thursday he joined the Titans, who had the worst field goal unit in the NFL last year when their first four kickers combined to connect on only 44.4% of field goals (8 for 18).
The last Titans/Oilers kicker to miss three field goals and an extra point in a game was Skip Butler against the Jets in the 1977 season opener.
Gostkowski appreciated the support.
“I just got here and come out here and play like that? For the guys to still support me and still have my back was pretty good,” Gostkowski said. “That’s the cool thing about team sports — you win and lose as a team. A position like mine, everybody sees when you screw up.
“That’s why I was grateful for the opportunity at the end, because the guys deserved the win. We’re all pros here. We’ve all had our days. But the kicking position, you miss a couple of kicks, the camera follows you around, they talk about you the whole time, they watch you. It can get to a lonely spot. But you have to keep your head high and keep on going.”
Gostkowski, who had made 87.4% of his kicks coming into the game, a percentage that ranked fifth-best in NFL history, missed a 47-yarder in the first quarter and Shelby Harris blocked his 43-yarder just before halftime. Gostkowski’s 42-yarder in the third quarter was wide left and he missed the PAT following Tennessee’s go-ahead touchdown on Jonnu Smith’s catch from Ryan Tannehill on fourth-and-1 with 13:49 remaining.
Denver replied with a 75-yard drive, with Melvin Gordon taking it in from a yard out, and Brandon McManus’ extra point put the Broncos up 14-13 with 9 minutes left.
The Broncos punted on their next two possessions and the Titans made them pay with a 12-play, 83-yard, game-winning scoring drive.
The teams scuffled to a 7-all tie after an eventful first half that included an ejection, a goal-line stand and Gostkowski’s dismal debut four days after signing with the Titans. The 36-year-old kicker left New England with 1,775 points over 204 games.
Drew Lock threw a 9-yard touchdown pass to Noah Fant after Gostkowski’s first miss, and the Titans tied it on Tannehill’s 1-yard strike to MyCole Pruitt after a Denver turnover.
Gordon, who signed a two-year, $16 million deal in free agency, coughed up the ball at the Denver 23 on a hard hit by safety Kevin Byard, who leads the league with 17 interceptions since 2017 but had never forced a fumble. Jeffrey Simmons recovered for Tennessee.
The Broncos failed to punch it in on three tries from the Titans 1 in the second quarter. Lock overthrew a wide-open Nick Vannett, Gordon was stuffed for no gain and Lock’s shovel pass to Jake Butt came up a yard short of the goal line.
Butt was on the receiving end of Rashaan Evans’ punch that got the Titans linebacker ejected.
There were no paying spectators but about 500 guests of players and coaches were in the stands as a sort of trial run for the Broncos’ next home game, against Brady and Tampa Bay in two weeks, when 5,700 fans will be allowed into the 70,000-seat Empower Field at Mile High.
Lock missed having the home crowd’s energy in the fourth quarter.
“Yeah, that would have been sweet,” he said. “It was definitely weird out there tonight. No noise. The timeouts, it was just quiet. I wanted to call the plays quiet in the huddle because I didn’t know if they could hear us.”
Titans CB Jonathan Joseph left in the first half with an arm injury but returned.
Broncos RB Phillip Lindsay (foot) and CB A.J. Bouye (shoulder) both went out in the first half and didn’t return.
Over the weekend, Broncos coach Vic Fangio said the only way wide receiver Courtland Sutton would play after spraining his right AC joint in practice was “to pass the most primitive test there is. ... If he can do 10 jumping jacks, he can play.”
Apparently, he couldn’t.
But at least the Broncos didn’t lose their best offensive player for an extended period of time 48 hours after losing star linebacker Von Miller to a dislodged ankle tendon that required surgery and is expected to sideline him all season.
The Titans lined up at the south goal line and the Broncos lined up at their 30-yard line while Alicia Keys’ rendition of “Lift Every Voice and Sing” was played on the scoreboard above the south end zone. The players retreated to the tunnels. They lined up in front of their benches for the “Star Spangled Banner,” and about a dozen players from each team took a knee during the national anthem.
Titans open at home against Jacksconville on Sunday without fans in the stands.
Broncos visit the Steelers on Sunday without any spectators in the seats.