Kickers look out of sorts after no exhibition games

Tennessee Titans kicker Stephen Gostkowski approaches his field goal attempt as punter Brett Kern (6) holds during the second half of an NFL football game against the Denver Broncos, Monday, Sept. 14, 2020, in Denver. Gostkowski missed the attempt. (AP Photo/Jack Dempsey)
Tennessee Titans kicker Stephen Gostkowski approaches his field goal attempt as punter Brett Kern (6) holds during the second half of an NFL football game against the Denver Broncos, Monday, Sept. 14, 2020, in Denver. Gostkowski missed the attempt. (AP Photo/Jack Dempsey)

Credit: Jack Dempsey

Credit: Jack Dempsey

Maybe kickers needed preseason more than anyone else

Maybe kickers needed preseason more than anyone else.

After a virtual offseason and a lack of exhibition games, it was the kickers who looked most out of sorts on opening weekend in the NFL.

From Randy Bullock’s missed game-tying field goal try for Cincinnati to Austin Seibrt’s missed field goal and extra point for Cleveland to Stephen Gostkowski’s roller-coaster Monday night for Tennessee, kickers had their problems last week.

The 19 missed field goals in all are the most on the opening week since kickers missed 20 in 1982. The 71.6% accuracy in Week 1 was the worst in the NFL since 1998, a severe back track from the nearly consistent improvement in recent years for kickers.

There were even five missed extra points, which was tied for the most in Week 1 since it was moved back to its current spot at the 15-yard line in 2015.

The biggest culprit was Gostkowski, who missed three field goals and one extra point for the Titans before connecting on a 25-yarder with 17 seconds left in a 16-14 win at Denver.

“We’ve all had our days,” Gostkowski said. “But the kicking position, you miss a couple of kicks, the camera follows you around, they talk about you the whole time, they watch you. It can get to a lonely spot. But you have to keep your head high and keep on going.”

GO FOR IT: Teams were aggressive in Week 1 about going for it on fourth down. The 40 fourth-down tries were the most in the opening week since at least 1991. Teams converted only 16 of the tries, with two of the biggest failures coming by Dallas and Carolina.

The Cowboys went for it on fourth-and-3 from the 11 in the fourth quarter when trailing the Rams by three. They couldn’t convert and lost 20-17. It was the first time since the Raiders in 2009 that a team trailing by three points or fewer in the fourth quarter went for it on fourth down with at least 3 yards to go while in field goal range.

The Panthers had an easy decision when they went for it on fourth-and-1 late in the fourth quarter against Las Vegas, trailing by four. The issue was they gave the ball to fullback Alex Armah instead of Christian McCaffrey and got stuffed to lose the game.

Teams went for it 22 times on fourth down in the first three quarters as coaches have gotten more aggressive, with Kansas City’s Andy Reid becoming the first coach since Jacksonville’s Jack Del Rio to go for it on fourth down in his own territory in the opening quarter of the season. The Chiefs converted and scored on the drive.

LATE GAME COLLAPSE: In coach Vic Fangio’s first season in Denver, the Broncos became the sixth team since 2000 to lose three games in a season that they led in the final 30 seconds. They did it again in the opener by allowing the Titans to drive for Gostkowski’s game-winning kick.

BLOWN LEADS: The Lions have a knack for blowing big leads in season openers. After squandering an 18-point fourth-quarter lead in a Week 1 tie against Arizona in 2019, Detroit blew a 17-point fourth quarter lead in a Week 1 loss this year to the Bears. All other teams are 120-2 when leading by at least 17 points in the fourth quarter of season openers since 2000. The only teams to lose were the Bears to the Packers in 2018 and the Chargers to the Chiefs in 2016.

PICK 6: Tampa Bay's Tom Brady threw an interception that was returned for a TD for the third straight game in the opener against New Orleans, having also done it in the regular-season finale against Miami and a playoff loss to Tennessee last season. He is the sixth player since 1991 to throw a pick-six in three straight games, joining Matt Schaub, Peyton Manning, Ty Detmer, Blaine Gabbert and John Elway. The only player in that span to do it four games in a row was Schaub for Houston in 2013.

MISSING ROOKIES: A casualty of the abbreviated offseason was the fate of undrafted rookies. With less practice time and no exhibition games to prove themselves in, rookies who didn’t get drafted played only 462 snaps in Week 1, the fewest in the league since 2009.

OLD AND NEW: A record four quarterbacks age 38 or older started the opener, with Pittsburgh’s Ben Roethlisberger, New Orleans’ Drew Brees, Tampa Bay’s Tom Brady and Indianapolis’ Philip Rivers getting the nod.

There were also 11 QBs younger than 25 who started Week 1, the second most to the 13 who did it in 2012.

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Cincinnati Bengals kicker Randy Bullock (4) reacts after missing a game tying field goal during the second half of an NFL football game against the Los Angeles Chargers, Sunday, Sept. 13, 2020, in Cincinnati. Los Angeles won 16-13. (AP Photo/Aaron Doster)
Cincinnati Bengals kicker Randy Bullock (4) reacts after missing a game tying field goal during the second half of an NFL football game against the Los Angeles Chargers, Sunday, Sept. 13, 2020, in Cincinnati. Los Angeles won 16-13. (AP Photo/Aaron Doster)

Credit: Aaron Doster

Credit: Aaron Doster