Gostkowski Makes Game-Winner After Multiple Misses

Mike Hogan

Stephen Gostkowski does not need to be told twice.

He knows how lucky he is to be headed back to Nashville with something positive to his credit.

In the Tennessee Titans’ 16-14 season-opening win over the Denver Broncos on Monday Night Football, the 36-year-old kicker turned in the worst performance of his career. The 15-year veteran missed the mark with field goal tries of 47 and 42 yards. In addition, his 44-yard attempt in the second quarter was blocked and he missed an extra-point attempt after quarterback Ryan Tannehill found tight end Jonnu Smith for a one-yard touchdown in the third quarter.

If it weren’t for the offense driving 83 yards on 12 plays in just over two minutes to set him up with the game-winning field goal with 17 seconds to play, there would be no silver lining. And the Titans would be 0-1.

“… I’m just happy that the guys got a chance to celebrate,” Gostkowski said of his 25-yard game-winning field goal. “I’m disappointed in myself. I’m embarrassed and frustrated, but at the end of the day we won and luckily guys are happy going home.”

Signed by the Titans just before the start of the regular season, Gostkowski has had six full seasons in which he missed three or fewer field goals. At Denver, he missed three in a game for the first time in his career and four kicks total, another career-worst.

Adding to the wound, Gostkowski began Week 1 as the NFL’s fifth most accurate kicker (87.4 percent). He ended tied for ninth and became the first kicker since September 1968 to miss four times in his first game with a team.

“That’s part of the game. Everyone has their day. In my position, you can’t afford to have too many of them,” Gostkowski said. “… I’ve played for a long time, and hopefully this is the last game like that.”

Prior to this season, Gostkowski spent 14 seasons with the New England Patriots and made 374 of his 428 field goal tries. His 205 total postseason points is second all-time in NFL history. In 28 career postseason games, including three Super Bowl victories, Gostkowski has made 39 of his 44 field goal attempts (88.6 percent). He has led the league in field goals three times in his career.

While Gostkowski missed much of 2019 with a hip injury, the Titans signed him with the idea he could bring stability back to a position that cost the Titans many points and a handful of games last season.

Once automatic for the Titans at kicker, Ryan Succop could not stay healthy enough to find his rhythm last season. Cairo Santos missed four field goals in a loss against the Buffalo Bills and lost his job shortly after. Cody Parkey lasted just three games.

Greg Joseph, who began training camp as the Titans starting kicker, appeared in five games (two regular season games, three in the postseason) and made all 18 of his point-after attempts. However, Joseph attempted just one field goal, which he made in the AFC Championship game against the Kansas City Chiefs.

Combined, the four kickers made 44 percent of their field goals last season. It was the first time since 2001 that the team made fewer than 60 percent of its field goals.

Add Gostkowski’s miscues and Titans kickers are a combined 1-for-9 in the last nine regular-season contests.

“Some of them I felt like I hit well,” Gostkowski said. “It’s just a frustrating thing. Maybe my timing was off a little bit. I’ve been kicking pretty well, definitely a lot better than that. It’s a very fickle job and it’s an easy job when you’re doing good and a tough job when you’re doing bad. I’m just disappointed in myself that I couldn’t bounce back quicker.

“That’s usually something I pride myself on is on to the next kick. Letting one kick turn into two, obviously it just snowballed from there.”

Gostkowski and head coach Mike Vrabel know that the missed kicks cannot continue if the Titans want to reach their ultimate goals this season.

But when push came to shove on Monday night, Vrabel, who was teammates with Gostkowski in New England, did not think twice. He trusted Gostkowski and Gosktowski, who has made his last 10 go-ahead field goal attempts in the fourth quarter, had enough confidence in himself.

“I mean, you have to,” Vrabel said of Gostkowkski,. “It's like sitting there and being like, 'It's been red ten times so I'm going to bet black because it's been red ten times.' It doesn't work that way. I just felt like we were going to be able to make the field goal and that that was the right play. That's the proper way to approach it, and everyone did their job on the last one.”

Added Gostkowski: “I don’t shy away from those situations, even when I have an awful game like that. I like being in that moment. I wish I didn’t put the team in that situation to get there, but football is a crazy sport. There’s a lot of things that go on. I’m trying to be a pro, keep my poise and keep my head up [at the end].”

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