Ugly W’s need love too, right?
This was nobody’s idea of an ideal start to the 2020 season, but disaster was avoided thanks to a Stephen Gostkowski field goal with 17 seconds remaining to give the Titans a 16-14 win in Denver (we will get to the other kicks shortly).
I wrote about how difficult it is to get a win at Mile High earlier this week in depth, but it’s worth noting again here that Tennessee became just the 8th team to win in Denver in Week 1 or Week 2 since 1975. The Broncos had been a staggering 48-7 in this exact situation over the past 45 years coming into this game and they leave it 48-8.
Nobody should be thrilled with how the Titans looked overall in this game. They started sloppy, had too many mental errors, and failed to make enough of the chunk plays on offense that had become a staple of the 2019 version of this team. Oh, and they missed four kicks (again, I’ll get to it… just let me put it off a little longer).
However, winning a sloppy game on the road against a solid Broncos team isn’t a terrible result. At the end of the day, 1-0 is what matters here. The Titans leave Denver tied with Jacksonville atop the AFC South and have a chance to stake a claim to an early division lead with the Jaguars coming to town on Sunday.
With that, let’s get into the winners and losers from Titans 16, Broncos 14.
Loser: Stephen Gostkowski
Let’s start here because this was the story of the game. The Titans kicking situation continues to be a gigantic mess. After seeing Cairo Santos, Cody Parkey, Ryan Succop, and Greg Joseph combine to make just 8 of 18 field goal attempts in 2019, the team went out and signed the 5th most accurate kicker in NFL history, Stephen Gostkowski to a $2.5-million deal just before the start of the season… and he promptly forgot how to kick.
Gostkowski hit an extra point to cap off the Titans first touchdown, but then proceeded to miss three straight field goal tries from 47, 44, and 42 yards AND an extra point. Rather than nursing a 23-7 lead early in the 4th quarter, the Titans were defending a 13-7 lead. A pretty massive difference.
Obviously, Gostkowski came through in the end, converting a 25-yard chip shot for the win, but this game never would have been in doubt late if the Titans could simply convert field goals like every other team in the NFL.
My guess is that Gostkowski gets another shot to bounce back next week given the contract they gave him and his overall track record of success, but they could decide to call up Greg Joseph off of Tampa Bay’s practice squad if they think Gostkowski is cooked.
Regardless of who is kicking next week, I’d recommend Mike Vrabel hiring an exorcist to come in and rub some sage on the walls of the special teams meeting room at Saint Thomas Sports Park.
Winner: Corey Davis
I’ve been saying all offseason that I think there is a real shot that Corey Davis not only has a strong season, but leads the Titans in receiving for the year. His Week 1 performance, despite being questionable heading into the game with a hamstring issue, is certainly encouraging.
Davis posted his 3rd career 100-yard game in Denver, catching 7 of 8 targets for 101 yards, including a couple of really tough grabs and a vicious stiff arm of Kareem Jackson. This was a very strong start for the former 5th overall pick who will be headed to free agency at the end of this season.
Loser: Ryan Tannehill
I know, I know… this is a little harsh. Tannehill’s raw numbers aren’t bad — 29 of 43 for 249 yards and 2 touchdowns with a 97.9 passer rating — but this wasn’t a high-end effort from the Titans quarterback. Tannehill averaged just 5.8 yards per attempt and got bailed out of two interceptions — one on a defensive penalty that was unrelated to the play but wiped out a pick and another on the pass that Jurrell Casey batted in the air that looked to be headed right for Broncos linebacker Josey Jewell.
It certainly wasn’t all bad for Tannehill though. He took just one sack — usually a major issue for him — and led a fantastic 83-yard game winning drive when it mattered the most. He also seemed to click with Corey Davis and Adam Humphries consistently.
I don’t think this was an alarming performance from Tannehill, who again, should have had 23 points in this game with even semi-competent kicking, but it wasn’t one of his better efforts in a Titans uniform to this point. All that being said, the Titans are now 10-4 with him under center with half those games being played against 2019 division winners. It’s hard to be too mad at him for a simply mediocre game, but expectations have been raised for this offense after last season.
Winner: Jadeveon Clowney
Jadeveon Clowney made his Titans debut and didn’t disappoint. No, there wasn’t a sack and he didn’t make any massive splash plays, but he was extremely disruptive, particularly early on.
The final stat line credits him with 3 tackles, 1 for a loss, and 1 quarterback hit on the night. Not a dominant showing, but he absolutely flashed. After the game Clowney admitted that he was still working into game shape and learning the Titans playbook.
And there were a few times where it looked like Clowney wasn’t sure where he was supposed to be. He lost contain on Drew Lock on a couple of boots and was sometimes too eager to dive inside looking for a stop, exposing the Titans edge.
However, you could absolutely see the difference maker he can be in this defense when he rounds into form. I was encouraged by his debut.
Loser: Kalif Raymond
This was not a great showing for the popular Titans speedster. He had two targets and wasn’t able to haul in either of them despite getting his hands on the ball and was a non-factor in the return game.
Raymond will have better days, but this was a rough outing.
Winner: Jeffery Simmons
Simmons has been hyped as a guy who is expected to make a big leap in his second NFL season and he showed up big time in this game, especially during the critical goal line stand late in the first half.
Simmons was credited with just 4 tackles, but two of them came during that stand, including this huge heads up tackle of Jake Butt on 4th and goal.
Simmons is completely immovable in short yardage situations. That showed up last year in huge stops against the Chargers, Patriots, and Ravens and it showed up again tonight.
He also made a great hustle play to jump on a fumble in a key situation in the first half that set up the Titans first touchdown of the game.
Loser: A.J. Brown
Like Tannehill, it’s not that Brown was actively bad… it’s just that he didn’t live up to the lofty standards he set for himself in 2019. I’ll be interested to see what the Broncos were doing from a coverage perspective to take away Brown when the All-22 comes out, but ultimately 5 catches for 39 yards isn’t what he was probably hoping for coming off a 1,051-yard rookie season.
Brown had two near misses. One on an early 3rd down where it looked like he turned his hands the wrong way on an out-breaking route and saw the ball glance off his hands. The second was the final offensive play of the game for the Titans when he just missed a game-winning touchdown. The throws from Tannehill weren’t perfect on either of those passes, but they were close enough that Brown had a shot to make the play. He usually does, but this time he didn’t.
Again, not something I’d be super concerned about after Week 1. This was Corey Davis’ night. Brown will bounce back.
Winner: Kevin Byard
Byard made one of the biggest plays of the game when he punched the ball out of Melvin Gordon’s hands, allowing Jeffery Simmons to recover and set up a Ryan Tannehill to MyCole Pruitt touchdown pass a few plays later. He also led the team in tackles with 9, including 8 solo stops, and had a pass break up as well.
Kevin Byard is the most dependable playmaker on this football team.
Loser: Rashaan Evans
You just can’t lose your composure like that when you’re a key part of a team like Evans is. The punch to Jake Butt’s facemask that got him ejected in the first quarter absolutely warranted an ejection.
Evans is supposed to be a rising leader on this Titans team and losing the guy that is in charge of relaying defensive playcalls and organizing the defense in the first few minutes of a game is a brutal, and totally unnecessary curveball that the Tennessee staff had to deal with in this game.
While we’re here… a lot of people are asking about David Long and why he didn’t get more snaps after Evans went out and I think it comes down to communication and getting the defense organized. Will Compton is a veteran that they trust and it almost certainly came down to that experience factor over a relatively green second year linebacker.
Winner: Chris Jackson
I was a believer in the Chris Jackson hype coming out of Titans camp, but I certainly didn’t expect to see him be the 3rd corner on the field with Malcolm Butler and Johnathan Joseph during the opening series. Jackson and fellow rookie Kristian Fulton appeared to be rotating a bit, but Jackson got the lion’s share of the snaps.
Sure, that’s partially due to the fact that Fulton missed time in camp with an injury — Mike Vrabel said as much after the game — but it’s still a pretty big vote of confidence in a 7th round rookie to throw him into the fire in Week 1 like that.
It is very hard to judge cornerback play based on the TV broadcast — the corners are almost always completely off the screen within a split second of the snap — so I’ll reserve total judgement here until the All-22 comes out, but we do know that Jackson wasn’t picked on. Ultimately, Drew Lock threw for just 216 yards on the Titans defense, and just 110 of those yards went to wide receivers.
Granted, the Broncos were without star receiver Courtland Sutton for the game, but Jackson — and Fulton for that matter — seemed to hold their own in coverage. It will be interesting to see how snaps at corner are distributed over the remainder of Adoree’ Jackson’s IR stint.
Winner: Harold Landry
The Titans didn’t get enough pressure on Drew Lock tonight, but Landry did show up in a couple huge spots, registering a pair of QB hits. One came on a 2nd and 1 play action pass during the Titans big goal line stand. Landry came free and forced Lock into a rushed throw that missed a wide open receiver in the end zone. The second hit came on a 3rd and 3 late in the game when Denver was trying to melt some clock, again, forcing an incompletion and getting the ball back to his offense.
I expect to see better days from the Titans pass rush in the weeks to come, but Landry’s clutch pressures made a real difference in the outcome of this game.