First impressions matter and Stephen Gostkowski’s couldn’t have been much worse. Not even if he tried.
It’s a good thing the Tennessee Titans gave him a second chance.
Two weeks after the 15-year veteran missed a career-high three field goals and extra-point attempt in his Titans debut against the Denver Broncos, Gostkowski has more than proved his worth to his new teammates and coaches.
In Sunday’s 31-30 victory over the Minnesota Vikings at US Bank Stadium, Gostkowski accounted for 19 of his team’s points and made a career-high six field goals from 39, 31, 30, 51, 54 and 55 yards, respectively. His final field goal – with 1:44 to play – was the game-winner.
It was exactly what the Titans expected of Gostkowski when they signed him just before the start of the regular season.
“He’s just doing his job,” head coach Mike Vrabel said. “That’s all we asked him to do. … We’re obviously very confident in him and today we needed him to help us win.”
Gostkowski’s consistency is something the Titans lacked last season.
Largely due to injuries and dreadful performances, they experimented with four different placekickers in 2019. Combined, those four made just nine total field goals (roughly 40 percent of attempts) over 19 games in the regular season and playoffs.
Gostkowski has made all nine of his attempts since his last miss in Denver, including four from 50 yards or more.
Other than playing without socks on, which he does often, Gostkowski said his ability to get back on track after his Week 1 performances is a product of staying true to himself and his routine.
“You play this game for a long time, you’re going to have bad things happen,” Gostkowski, who ranks among the top 10 in NFL history in field goal percentage, said. “Obviously I was rusty that first game. I didn’t feel great and played one of the worst games I have ever played.
“But the worst thing you can do is change everything. You need to stick with what gets you there.”
What has been most impressive about Gostkowski’s bounce-back has been how well he has performed in crunch time.
Each of the Titans’ three victories so far this season have come down to the final minutes, and a field goal from Gostkowski with little time remaining has made sure Tennessee came out on top each time. He is the first kicker in Oilers/Titans history two make three consecutive game-winning field goals. Joe Nedney (Oct. 14-21, 2001), Rob Bironas (Nov. 26–Dec. 3, 2006) and Ryan Succop (Sept. 16-23, 2018) are the only other kickers in franchise history to have made game-winning kicks in consecutive weeks.
Gostkowski, who spent his first 14 seasons with New England, has made 12 game-winning field goals over the course of his career. However, the only other time Gostkowski made three in a season was 2013 (Sept. 8, Nov. 24 and Dec. 11). He had just three total in his final six seasons with the Patriots.
“To keep my head down and grind and have some good results the last two weeks, it definitely means a lot,” he said. “I just have to feed off of our guys. They are out there making plays and you want to be out there making plays too. I am happy I was able to do that for the Titans today.
“...You just play the game. If you go out there and they call your number, you try to perform,” he said. “...Whatever it takes.”
Vrabel, though, said the thought of getting rid of Gostkowski, four-time Pro Bowler, after one bad performance never really crossed his mind.
The coach’s one-time teammate has been at the top of his game for far too long to receive such treatment. His 205 total postseason points rank second 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.
Vrabel knew Gostkowski would figure it out. Gostkowski did too.
“Kicking is like a love-hate relationship,” Gostkowski said. “When it’s going good it’s really good. When it’s bad, it’s really tough. You just have to find the fine line between not getting too high or too low.
“I will beat myself up for a few days and I move on.”
By all indications, Gostkowski’s nightmare of a debut with the Titans can be considered as a fluke. The Titans have their kicker.
“It’s not going to do me and the team any good to cower,” Gostkowski said. “You have to prove to yourself and your teammates that you deserve to be there. ...I keep my head down and try to focus on what I need to do to help the team win.”