NASHVILLE – It looked bad.
It wasn’t just that Brett Kern, the Tennessee Titans’ Pro Bowl punter, failed to convert a fake field goal Sunday against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. It was that his attempt to run for a first down on fourth-and-2 from the Tampa Bay 28 ended when Buccaneers linebacker Devin White hit him hard. Really hard.
The play resulted in no gain, new life for a Tampa Bay team that trailed by four with just under four minutes to play and a great deal of concern for the well-being of Kern, arguably the Titans’ best player through the first half of this season.
Looking back, though, Kern said he would do it all again.
“It’s a good fake,” he said. “… We had the look we wanted. (White) was over to the other side and then when they snapped it, he shot over and filled the gap so what looked like a really big gap to me closed pretty darn quick. The guy made a great play.”
Tennessee (4-4) overcame that moment and held on for a 27-23 victory and Kern came out of it no worse for the wear. He was uninjured and his coach was unapologetic about the decision to expose him to that kind of contact when his team was in front and had a chance to add to the margin. Had the Titans kicked, the field goal attempt would have been from 46 yards, and kicker Cody Parkey already had made one from 51 yards earlier in the contest.
“Understand that we practice, and we study, we get looks, and we feel very confident in the look that we’re going to get,” coach Mike Vrabel said. “They made a play. We didn’t. … There’s going to be some decisions, going to be some execution, and one side’s going to make a play and one side’s not. That’s football.”
Kern affirmed his well-being when he was called upon a short time later to do what he does best – punt. With 50 seconds to play, he got off a 40-yard kick against an all-out attempt by Tampa Bay to block it. He put it out of bounds so as not to allow a return and forced the Buccaneers to try to go 76 yards for a touchdown in 42 seconds, without a timeout. They could not.
It was a reassuring moment for all who saw what happened three minutes earlier.
“Brett got hit in the chin,” left tackle Taylor Lewan said (hear him discuss the play at length in the above video). “I heard it and I thought, ‘Oh my.’ I thought he was dead. But he’s fine. I talked to him on the sidelines.”