DENVER — Wins are hard to come by in the NFL, and the Tennessee Titans got their first one of the 2020 season on Monday, though they shouldn’t be celebrating it too much.
The Titans’ performance in their 16-14 win over the Denver Broncos presented a good case for why the NFL needs at least a couple of preseason games. The team was sloppy from start to finish in all three phases, showing plenty of rust and constantly looking out of sync.
Penalties, poor pass protection, coverage breakdowns, clock mismanagement and, most of all, missed field goals plagued the Titans in their season opener, and they’ll need to correct those problems in a hurry.
“There are always things to clean up, more so now than ever,” head coach Mike Vrabel said after the game. “We’ve got to do it quickly.”
The #Titans waited until SEPTEMBER to sign a new kicker following one of the worst kicking seasons in NFL history. The results aren’t surprising.
— Luke Worsham (@luke_worsham) September 15, 2020
The Titans would have won this game by a much wider margin had it not been for Stephen Gostkowski’s whopping four missed kicks.
The veteran missed three field goals and one extra point, keeping 10 points off the board for the Titans.
“I’m disappointed in myself,” said Gostkowski, who did make a kick to win the game at the end, albeit a chip-shot 25-yarder. “Embarrassed, frustrated.”
Following the 2019 season, in which the Titans were one of the NFL’s all-time worst kicking teams, it was hard to imagine any possibility of a repeat performance being in-store in 2020.
Yet, after Gostkowski’s dud of a Titans debut, things are looking grim on that front.
The Titans are a talented team with a very high ceiling, but even if they sort out every other issue that arose during Monday’s game, they won’t come close to reaching that ceiling if they have a kicker who can’t even be counted on to make chip shots.
Gostkowski, one of the NFL’s all-time great kickers, figures to have better potential to turn things around than any member of the Titans’ 2019 carousel of kickers did.
It needs to happen soon, though. The Titans can’t afford to wait around.
“We were shooting ourselves in the foot.”
Vrabel agreed that today was one of Corey Davis’ better games for the #Titans. He got a game ball.
— AtoZSports Nashville (@AtoZSports) September 15, 2020
Offensively, “clunky” is probably the best adjective to describe how the Titans looked in the season opener.
The unit that garnered a reputation in 2019 for being crisp and efficient was stagnant, unexplosive and, at times, penalty-ridden.
“There were times where we were shooting ourselves in the foot, getting penalties,” said WR Corey Davis, whose seven-catch, 101-yard performance was one of few highlights for the Titans.
“We just weren’t being us.”
The most disappointing moment of the night for the Titans offense was just before halftime when they inexplicably let nearly 40 seconds run off of the clock following the first play out of the 2-minute warning.
That lost time haunted QB Ryan Tannehill and his teammates later in the drive, as they were forced to hurry way too much as they neared the red zone, leading to more sloppiness and having to settle for a field goal attempt that the Broncos blocked.
“There are going to drive like that. It was the first game, and not everything works perfectly,” RB Derrick Henry said.
Henry was somewhat of a bright spot for the Titans, as he did top the 100-yard mark, but it took him over 30 carries to get there, leading to an unimpressive 3.7 yards-per-carry average.
He never seemed close to ripping off one of his signature long runs.
“A lot of room to grow.”
In addition to the kicking disaster and offensive clunkiness, the Titans defense presented the team with problems.
For starters, linebacker Rashaan Evans got himself ejected from the game in the first quarter after shockingly throwing a punch at Broncos TE Jake Butt.
The defense also allowed an uncharacteristic number of chunk plays, giving up a 25-yard run to RB Melvin Gordon, a 31-yard catch to TE Noah Fant and a 25-yard catch to WR Jerry Jeudy.
A lot went wrong for the Titans in their season opener and with a short week on the horizon before playing the Jaguars on Sunday, the typical 24-hour window for celebrating a win should probably be even narrower.
A win is a win, though, and the Titans have the talent and coaching necessary to continue getting them. They just need to come more convincingly.
“There’s a lot of room to grow,” Davis said.
“We know what we have to do—we have to get back in our rhythm, we have to be us.”
Cover image: Isaiah J. Downing / USA Today