Talk about redemption.
After missing his first three field goals and an extra point, Stephen Gostkowski drilled the game-winning field goal to give the Tennessee Titans a 16-14 victory over the Denver Broncos in Monday's Week 1 AFC showdown at Empower Field at Mile High.
Ryan Tannehill and Derrick Henry led the Titans down the field on their final drive, and Gostkowski erased all his early struggles by hitting a chip-shot 25-yard field goal.
As for the Broncos, this is another early blow to their 2020 hopes after they already lost star pass-rusher Von Miller for significant time with an ankle injury.
Notable Player Stats
- Ryan Tannehill, QB, TEN: 29-of-43 passing for 249 yards, 2 TDs and 0 INT
- Derrick Henry, RB, TEN: 31 carries for 116 yards, 3 catches for 15 yards
- Corey Davis, WR, TEN: 7 catches for 101 yards
- Drew Lock, QB, DEN: 22-of-33 passing for 216 yards, 1 TD and 0 INT
- Melvin Gordon III, RB, DEN: 15 carries for 78 yards and 1 TD, 3 catches for 8 yards
- Noah Fant, TE, DEN: 5 catches for 81 yards and 1 TD
Gostkowski Goes from Culprit to Hero
It seemed as if the football universe was playing a cruel joke.
The Titans made just eight field goals at 44.4 percent last year, so they added a four-time Pro Bowler and three-time Super Bowl champion in Gostkowski. So much for solving the issues, though, as all he did was miss both of his field goals in the first half, the second of which was blocked.
It was part of an ugly start for the Titans that saw them score seven total points through the first three quarters. Those points came on a Tannehill touchdown pass to MyCole Pruitt that only happened because of a short field following a Melvin Gordon III fumble.
Even the defense, which played well and kept the visitors in it throughout, had an ugly moment when linebacker Rashaan Evans was ejected for throwing a punch at Broncos tight end Jake Butt.
After Gostkowski missed a third field goal, the solution seemed to be not kicking at all. Head coach Mike Vrabel elected to go for a 4th-and-goal from the 1-yard line in the final quarter, and Tannehill rewarded him with a fake to Henry and touchdown pass to a wide-open Jonnu Smith on a well-designed play.
Fittingly, Gostkowski missed the extra point. Even more fittingly, Tennessee found itself down by one when the Broncos answered with a touchdown of their own.
Yet, the cruel joke turned for the Titans on their final offensive possession when Tannehill and Henry methodically worked their way down the field to give Gostkowski his chance at redemption.
He didn't miss that chance.
Attrition, Inconsistency Strike Broncos
The new-look Broncos offense was a primary storyline heading into this game.
After all, they signed two-time Pro Bowler Gordon to join Phillip Lindsay in the backfield and drafted Jerry Jeudy and K.J. Hamler to give Drew Lock additional weapons alongside returning star Courtland Sutton. However, Hamler and Sutton were both inactive, and Lindsay exited with an injury after just seven carries.
There were some bright spots, as second-year tight end Noah Fant appears primed for a major season. He put the Broncos on the board with a touchdown catch in the first quarter on a drive that also saw Jeudy's first career catch.
Jeudy also mixed in two catches on Denver's go-ahead touchdown drive in the fourth quarter, which Gordon finished with a run.
However, the rookie wide receiver dropped multiple Lock passes, and Titans defensive tackle Jeffery Simmons stopped Butt on a shovel pass 4th-and-goal from the 1-yard line in the first half. Those points would have been critical by the end of the game.
A defense playing without Miller also struggled to generate pressure on Tannehill on Tennessee's final drive, and there were only so many times the Broncos could rely on Gostkowski to miss a kick before he delivered.