NASHVILLE – Randy Bullock waited his turn. Not that he liked it, mind you.
Bullock has been the Tennessee Titans placekicker for the past 16 games, which at any other point during his career would have meant from start to finish. But this was the 2021 season, the first with a 17-game schedule, and Bullock did not get the job until Week 2, after Michael Badgley was released in the wake of one underwhelming performance.
“The thing that I loved about Randy when he first got here is … he, obviously, wasn’t the first pick early on,” special teams coach Craig Aukerman said Tuesday. “When we gave the job to Badgley the very first game, Randy was in my office basically asking me, ‘Why not me?’
“And I loved it. I loved the demeanor with him. We knew he was going to be ready to kick when he got the opportunity, and he’s done a real nice job for us.”
Now, at 32 years old and after 10 seasons in the league, he finally gets a chance to kick in the playoffs. He is one of 18 players currently on the active roster with no NFL playoff experience. That group includes veteran safety Matthias Farley, cornerback Buster Skrine, running back Dontrell Hilliard and defensive lineman Kyle Peko.
It is a big stage and a big opportunity for Bullock given that six of Tennessee’s 17 playoff games during the Titans era (1999-present) have been decided by three points or fewer. A 2002 divisional round contest against Pittsburgh ended with Joe Nedney’s 26-yard field goal in overtime, and a wild card victory at Baltimore the next year was decided by Gary Anderson’s 46-yard field goal with 29 seconds to play.
“You have to be able to execute,” coach Mike Vrabel said. “You are going to have to come up with clutch plays on both sides of the football. You are going to have to make a critical kick to help you win and move on in the playoffs.”
At first, the decision to turn to Bullock seemed like a continuation of the steady turnover at the position – four different kickers in 2019, two more in 2020. Sam Ficken won a training camp competition with Tucker McCann only to go on injured reserve a day before the opener. The Titans promoted Badgley, who had been signed to the practice squad days earlier. He missed one field goal and one PAT in the loss to Arizona and was waived a day later.
Ficken stayed on injured reserve for the entire regular season, and Bullock, who once kicked for five different teams in just two seasons (2015-16) stayed on the job once he got it. He survived a miss in overtime that would have given Tennessee a tie – rather than a loss – in Week 4 against the New York Jets. He also held on through a three-game stretch in which he missed two PATs and two field goals.
“He has kicked well for us all year,” quarterback Ryan Tannehill, a college teammate of Bullock’s said. “So, it has been great having him around.”
Bullock finished the season with 120 points, the second-highest total of his career. The only time in the last decade that a Titans player had more was when Ryan Succop racked up 136 in 2017.
His 83.9 percent success rate on field goals was slightly better than his career average, and he as perfect on 17 attempts inside of 40 yards. His 26 field goals (31 attempts) were two shy of the number six kickers made in the previous two seasons combined, and his three game-winning kicks (two in overtime) nearly doubled his career total.
The last time a Titans kicker made as many was 2018, when Succop was 26 for 30. That also was the last time the franchise had the same kicker for 16 consecutive contests.
“Just going back to when we had (Succop) early on when I was here, you didn’t really have to worry about that phase because you trusted the guy and the guy would get his job done,” Aukerman said. “And Randy has brought some stability to that. He’s done a great job.”