DENVER – The message was preached from the time the 2020 Titans first began to gather: The 2019 season, and a trip to the AFC Championship Game, means nothing now.
Here on Monday night, the Titans started anew.
And they started with a W – just barely.
"We are excited to get out of here with a win," Coach Mike Vrabel said after the team's 16-14 win over the Broncos. "It was hard-fought, but I think sometimes the tougher it gets, the better we are. We can embrace those types of games, and win those type football games."
Titans quarterback Ryan Tannehill completed 29-of-43 passes for 249 yards and two touchdowns in the contest, and running back Derrick Henry ran for 116 tough yards on 31 carries.
Receiver Corey Davis turned in a gutsy performance, making seven catches for 101 yards despite playing through a hamstring injury that slowed him during the week.
Defensively, the Titans got some big stops when the game was on the line.
But the Titans didn't win it until kicker Stephen Gostkowski's 25-yard field goal went through the uprights with just 17 seconds left in the contest.
It was the 10th career game-winning kick for Gostkowski, a former Patriot. The kick capped off a tough debut for Gostkowski, who misfired on his first three field goals on the night and also missed a PAT.
"It's definitely an opportunity I didn't deserve, but grateful I got it for the team," Gostkowski said after the game. "The guys that went out there and busted their butt, I really put them in a tough spot – you don't always get that lucky to get a chance to redeem yourself. I am just happy the guys got to celebrate.
"I am disappointed in myself, and embarrassed and frustrated. But at the end of the day we won, and luckily guys are happy going home."
Yes, the Titans pulled out the win when it mattered most to start the season 1-0.
Trailing 14-13 with just 3:05 left, the Titans put together a 12-play, 83-yard drive to win it.
"Let's go win this football game, and let's finish – that's what we were focused on, and that's what we did,," Henry said of the mood in the huddle at the start of the drive. "We were able to get the victory in the end, and that's all that matters."
Added Tannehill, who threw one-yard touchdown passes to tight end MyCole Pruitt and Jonnu Smith: "It wasn't pretty. We didn't come out and execute the way that we wanted to for the length of the football game, but we battled. We fought through a lot of adversity and found a way to win at the end. When we needed to put points up, and we found a way to do it. I am proud of the guys for battling through that adversity."
It was a tough start for the Titans.
In the first quarter, Gostkowski missed a 47-yard field goal, cornerback Johnathan Joseph left the game with an arm injury, and starting linebacker Rashaan Evans was disqualified from the contest for throwing a punch after the play.
All this was before the Broncos took a 7-0 lead on a nine-yard touchdown pass from quarterback Drew Lock to tight end Noah Fant. The Titans trailed 7-0 at the end of the first quarter.
"It was just basically an overreaction after the play," Evans explained of his ejection. "A little bit after the whistle there was a little tussle and I ended up overreacting by hitting him... I had the opportunity to apologize to the rest of the guys and basically say I was going to make up for it."
Things got better in the second quarter, beginning with a forced fumble by safety Kevin Byard, and a recovery by defensive lineman Jeffery Simmons. The turnover set the Titans up on Denver's 21-yard line, and the Titans cashed it in for a touchdown with the one-yard touchdown toss from Tannehill to MyCole Pruitt to make it 7-7 with 9:21 remaining in the first half.
The Titans rose up on defense when it mattered most on the next series, as Simmons stuffed a shovel pass for no gain on a fourth-and-goal from the one-yard line. The Titans sideline, and a fist-pumping Vrabel, erupted after that play.
"I think we did a great job collectively stopping the run at the goalline," Simmons said. "Every snap I want to give my best. … It's not just me, all those guys were juiced. It takes all 11 of us."
But the Titans weren't able to use the momentum from the play, as a late drive second quarter drive fizzled, and Gostkowski had his second field goal attempt of the night blocked just before halftime. It was 7-7 at the half.
After a solid drive on their first possession of the second half, Gostkowski missed again, this time from 42 yards, and the game remained tied at 7-7 with 7:28 left in the third quarter.
The Titans took the lead with one-yard touchdown pass from Tannehill to Smith with 13:49 remaining in the contest, which capped a 15-play, 82-yard drive. But Gotkowski's extra point attempt was missed, so the lead was just 13-7.
On Denver's next, the Broncos took the 14-13 lead on a one-yard touchdown run by Melvin Gordon with 9:08 left in the contest.
Then came the heroics in the final minutes, and seconds.
And the win.
The Titans return home to Nissan Stadium on Sunday to face the Jacksonville Jaguars. After one week, the two teams are tied atop the AFC South.
"I think that there're always things to clean up, and more so now than ever," Vrabel said. "We've got to do it quickly with a long flight and a quick turnaround."
The Tennessee Titans take on the Denver Broncos on Monday Night Football at Empower Field at Mile High in Denver. (Photos: Donald Page)