From 5:32 in the first quarter to 0:17 left in the fourth quarter, Tennessee Titans kicker Stephen Gostkowski was the team’s scapegoat — having missed three field goals and an extra point.
But after the Titans drove 83 yards on 12 plays down to the Denver Broncos 7-yard line, Gostkowski redeemed himself. The veteran nailed a 25-yard field goal to lift the Titans to a 16-14 win over the Broncos at Empower Field at Mile High in Denver.
“At that point it was like, ‘let’s get it down here close enough and take care of the football and win the football game with a field goal,’” Titans HC Mike Vrabel said. “I’ve got a lot of confidence and told Stephen early on I think after whatever miss, ‘hey, you’re going to have an opportunity to win this game. I know you will, and you’ll make the most of it.’”
Added Gostkowski: “I’m just happy the guys got to celebrate. I’m disappointed in myself and embarrassed and frustrated, but at the end of the day, we won. And luckily, guys are happy going home.”
Gostkowski, who has missed three or more field goals from 40-49 yards in a single season only three times in his 15-year career, missed from 47, 44 and 42 yards on Monday night. Also, it was the first time in his career he had ever missed three field goals in one game.
An 87.5 percent career kicker heading into Monday’s game, Gostkowski appeared to be rattled after his second field goal attempt was blocked at the line of scrimmage. He appeared to rush his third field goal attempt and an extra point attempt that appeared to loom large after Denver took a one-point lead on the ensuing drive.
“The first one that I kicked, I didn’t miss by much,” said Gostkowski, who previously enjoyed a strong stint with New England. “That doesn’t really matter but I thought I put a good boot on it and just pushed it a little bit. The second one got blocked and I think I started to speed up after that and that’s on me to keep my composure and not worry about what else is going on.”
When the Broncos punted the ball back to the Titans with 3:13 left, it almost seemed like an inevitability it would come down to one more Gostkowski field goal.
As Tennessee was driving, Broncos coach Vic Fangio sat on all three of his timeouts as more and more time came off the clock.
“They weren’t using their timeouts, they were banking on him missing,” Vrabel said.
Tennessee pounded the ball into the red zone, and on fourth and goal from the 7, Vrabel called Gostkowski’s number one last time.
“Obviously, you’re hoping for a chance,” he said. “That would have been the only positive play I had all day, so you want some kind of chance to help the team win. I don’t shy away from those situations…I wish I didn’t put the team in that situation to get there…I’m just grateful for the opportunity, even though I probably didn’t deserve it.”
The 1-for-4 performance doesn’t inspire much faith in a fan base that had to endure the statistically worst kicking game in the NFL last season. In 2019, the Titans made just 8 of 18 field goals and were the only team with fewer than 10 made field goals.
The Titans presumably don’t want to run into a repeat of 2019 when they ran through Cairo Santos, Cody Parkey, Ryan Succop and Greg Joseph just to get through the season.
The Titans cut Joseph last week to make room for Gostkowski. The former has since signed with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers’ practice squad. The Titans also have rookie Tucker McCann on their practice squad.
Vrabel said a few times after the game he is confident the team will get the kicking issues corrected. The Titans could ride it out with Gostkowski — whom many consider a future Hall of Famer — and see where it takes them, or the 36-year-old’s first game as a Titan could be his last.
“I just got to this team and I really wanted to come out and make a strong first impression and I did the exact opposite,” Gostkowski said. “I guess the positive thing is they send you back out there. Everyone has their day. At my position, you can’t afford to have too many of them…Hopefully, this is the last game like that.”
Follow Michael Gallagher on Twitter @MGsports_