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Plenty of warts on Titans' season opener, but in the end, it was a win | Estes

The Tennessean (Nashville) logo The Tennessean (Nashville) 9/15/2020 Gentry Estes, Nashville Tennessean
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Warts and all, it was a win.

That’s about all you can say about this one for the Titans. They did enough wrong to deserve to lose a winnable game Monday night, but they didn’t lose it.

The offense did enough when it mattered. The defense did enough despite not being able to make a lead hold up in the fourth quarter.

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And Stephen Gostkowski, bless his heart, finally did, too.

Oh, you’ll take an ugly 16-14 win, for sure. But don’t kid yourself. This performance wasn’t worth additional swagger for a franchise that had started to develop some. This didn't scream Super Bowl, but few teams have yet.

DaQuan Jones standing in front of a crowd: Tennessee Titans players, including DaQuan Jones (90), celebrate after a fourth quarter go-ahead field goal against the Denver Broncos at Empower Field at Mile High on September 14, 2020 in Denver, Colorado. © Dustin Bradford, Getty Images Tennessee Titans players, including DaQuan Jones (90), celebrate after a fourth quarter go-ahead field goal against the Denver Broncos at Empower Field at Mile High on September 14, 2020 in Denver, Colorado.

On this weird opening NFL weekend in which few teams were that impressive, two made it look exceptionally easy: the Kansas City Chiefs and the Baltimore Ravens.

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If these Titans truly have staying power as the Super Bowl contender they suddenly turned into late last season, those are the AFC teams to which they need to be comparing themselves, rather than the Texans that the Chiefs dismantled or the Colts that somehow lost to the supposedly tanking Jaguars.

If these Titans are as good as hoped, winning this division should be a given, not a goal.

What better opportunity to make that statement and set a tone than Monday night on national TV? Opening up in Denver normally wouldn’t be a breeze. But against these Broncos, with an inexperienced quarterback and without their fans, outside linebacker Von Miller and wide receiver Courtland Sutton, it set up as a game an elite team should be able to win handily.

Instead, by early in the second quarter, it was already clear that if the Titans were to win, they’d have to overcome their own issues to do it. And if they were to lose, it would feel justified.

Because this was so sloppy from the start. At times, it was just silly.

What was linebacker Rashaan Evans doing by throwing a right hook that got him ejected? You kidding? Evans? He isn’t just a good player. He was supposed to be a valuable leader on a defense that lost several of those this offseason. Instead, Evans’ loss of composure left important matters up to Will Compton, certainly not how the Titans drew it up.

The defense proved to be mostly solid anyway, though it took first-half heroics like safety Kevin Byard’s forced fumble and a goal-line stand – see Jeffery Simmons on fourth down – before Ryan Tannehill, Derrick Henry, Corey Davis and, actually, Gostkowski helped win the game.

The offense was measured, methodical and generally effective, but the inability to get in the end zone was costly. Because after an offseason spent trying to figure out the place-kicking dilemma, the Titans still can’t count on being able to make a field goal.

Were the other kickers so awful this preseason that the Titans really were better off rolling late with an aging free agent in Gostkowski? That move looked less savvy and more ill-advised and desperate with each deflating miss Monday night.

After three missed field goals, coach Mike Vrabel had little choice but to take the fourth-and-goal gamble that resulted in a go-ahead touchdown early in the fourth quarter. That Gostkowski badly shanked the extra point validated his decision.

And that miss left the Titans behind 14-13 when they got the ball back with 9:08 remaining. By that point, the Titans had run 14 more offensive plays than the Broncos and had wisely handed the football 25 times to Henry.

That was going to matter eventually. Henry got 116 tough rushing yards. Tannehill threw 43 times for 249 yards and two huge touchdowns.

Didn't feel much like progress, this one, but it could have easily been worse.

For the Titans, too many games in recent seasons have gotten away just like this one almost did.

But it didn't.

Reach Gentry Estes at gestes@tennessean.com and on Twitter @Gentry_Estes. 

This article originally appeared on Nashville Tennessean: Plenty of warts on Titans' season opener, but in the end, it was a win | Estes

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