Hamilton Herald Masthead


Front Page - Friday, October 2, 2020

Lucky won’t cut it against NFL's best teams

Tennessee kicker Stephen Gostkowski kicks a 55-yarder, one of his six field goals on the day, during the second half of the Titans’ 31-30 win at Minnesota Sunday. - Photo by Bruce Kluckhohn | AP

Is it better to be lucky than good? It certainly seems to be working for the Tennessee Titans after three games.

But the upcoming schedule might require the Titans to be both. They will play host to the 3-0 Pittsburgh Steelers and the 3-0 Buffalo Bills in successive weeks. Both opponents are legitimate playoff contenders – far different from what the Titans have squeezed past in their first three wins.

The Titans also could be shorthanded with three players and five team officials testing positive for COVID-19 this week.

The Broncos, Jaguars and Vikings are a combined 1-8, and Tennessee’s wins over them were by a combined six points.

On Sunday, the Titans fiddled and diddled their way through two and a-half quarters in Minnesota before finally pulling out a 31-30 road victory.

Stephen Gostkowski, who was very nearly the goat just two weeks before in Denver, came to the rescue with six field goals, including three 50-plus yards.

It was a throwback to the Jeff Fisher days where Al Del Greco once accounted for all the scoring in a 15-13 win against the Eagles and to what Rob Bironas did to the Texans with an NFL record eight.

Wins – and road wins, in particular – can be tough to come by in the NFL, even in a pandemic with no fans in attendance. But let’s not kid ourselves here. Before we can declare these Titans to be superior even to last year’s team, which reached the AFC Championship Game, there are some areas that need to be fixed.

At the top of the list is run defense, something that has been a staple of good Titans teams for many years.

A week ago, it was unheralded James Robinson going for 100-plus yards on the Titans defense. This past Sunday, Dalvin Cook gashed his way through the Tennessee line for 181.

The Titans won’t win if they give James Conner those same types of runs this Sunday. And the Bills, while relying more on quarterback Josh Allen these days, would like nothing better than for the Titans to still have gap and tackling issues when they arrive in two weeks.

Also, without Adoree’ Jackson, the Titans secondary looks slow, something Kirk Cousins could easily exploit. Makes you wonder what Ben Roethlisberger might be able to do.

And so it is that the Titans move forward a very flawed, very fortunate team.

“Every phase of our team has to improve and do better, but there is no panic,” Titans coach Mike Vrabel says.

Indeed, if you are looking for reasons to see a Titans glass as half full, resiliency is the place to start.

“It’s very encouraging to be a part of a team that is not a bunch of frontrunners that pack up and complain and start pointing fingers when things don’t go right, and they don’t, especially in this league and in life,” Vrabel adds.

“To come up here and win a game, we’re excited. We’re going to enjoy it and get better in all three phases and as a coaching staff.”

That resiliency stems in large part from Vrabel, but it filters through quarterback Ryan Tannehill.

Tannehill now has a 10-3 record in 13 regular-season starts for the Titans, with six of those 10 victories being of fourth quarter comebacks. If you’re keeping count, three of those have now come in the first three games of 2020.

For all their close calls and brushes with near-loss experiences, Tennessee is one of just seven teams still without a loss in 2020. And they will take it, flaws and all.

“We would love to sit here and play blowouts and win, but that’s not the reality of it,” Vrabel said. “I think it does end up giving you confidence. It’s not something we want to rely on, but it’s something we want to continue to build on.”