Evan McPherson gives extra kick to Bengals’ Super Bowl dreams
Joe Burrow has been so cool under pressure that one teammate described the Cincinnati quarterback as a “stone-faced killer,” but the 25-year-old gunslinger who will lead his club into Sunday’s Super Bowl against the Rams is not the only Bengals youngster with his foot firmly on the clutch.
Rookie kicker Evan McPherson has hit five game-winning field goals this season, including a 31-yarder to give Cincinnati a 27-24 win over Kansas City in the AFC championship game and a 52-yarder as time expired for a 19-16 win over Tennessee in the divisional round.
McPherson, a fifth-round pick out of Florida who was the only kicker selected in the 2021 NFL draft, is 12 for 12 on field goals this postseason, making four in each game, and needs three field goals in the Super Bowl to break Adam Vinatieri’s record of 14 field goals in one postseason, set in 2006 for New England.
“Being a specialist, you’re kind of like a sniper,” McPherson said on a videoconference call Monday. “You get one shot and one kill. It’s really cut and dry. You either make the kick or miss it. It doesn’t matter if the crowd noise is at record decibels, you have this one shot, that’s it, all eyes are on you, and you have to make it.
Rams Super Bowl coverage
“You know that subconsciously, but in that moment, you feel like nobody is watching you. If you start thinking about the crowd and the noise, you get thrown off and bad things are gonna happen. You have to zero in and not let anything affect you. For those 1.3 seconds, you don’t hear anything.”
The silence in McPherson’s head was similar to the hush that fell over Nissan Stadium in Nashville and Arrowhead Stadium in Kansas City after McPherson sent the Titans and Chiefs home for the winter. McPherson would love nothing more than to quiet Rams fans in SoFi Stadium with a similar kick on Sunday.
“The way these last couple of games have turned out, I think it definitely could come down to a field goal,” McPherson said. “The stage might be bigger, the lights might be brighter, but when you’re on the field, it’s exactly the same. You have to know in your mind there is no way you can miss the kick.”
McPherson actually struggled early this season, missing three field goals in his first five games, but his confidence grew as he made 35 of 37 field goals over the rest of the season and finished with an NFL-record 12 field goals of at least 50 yards in the regular season and postseason.
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In fact, Burrow said that after McPherson’s warmups before his game-winner at Tennessee, the kicker told backup quarterback Brandon Allen: “Well, looks like we’re going to the AFC championship game.”
McPherson’s confidence seemed to morph into a swagger, so much so that The Precinct restaurant in Cincinnati recently changed the name of one of their dishes to “Money Mac & Cheese” in his honor, and the kicker is being compared to the star quarterback.
“Can I give you an analogy?” Bengals tight end C.J. Uzomah said, when asked how McPherson’s confidence compares to Burrow’s. “One is the 7-year-old stud on the playground who is running around, making the older kids miss and smiling as he does it, laughing, giving them smug looks, and you want to give him a wedgie, but you can’t because you can’t catch him. That’s Evan. That’s his confidence.
“Joe is like the big kid who comes in and says, ‘No sir. You’re great but you’re 7 years old, and now the high school kids have come out to play. Get on the sidelines and let me do what I need to do,’ and the 7-year-old is like, ‘Oh, that’s gonna be me in a few years.’”
Home away from home
Coach Sean McVay said if high winds are present at the Rams’ Thousand Oaks facility on Thursday, the team will practice at the Rose Bowl.
“That is not the least bit an inconvenience for us, but being able to get ahead so that we can get that work in,” McVay said Monday.
McVay said about 80% of the game plan has been installed for the Super Bowl. Wednesday will be the final day of installation, “and then we’ll just put some final touches on it,” McVay said.
In 2019, when the Rams played the Patriots in Super Bowl LIII in Atlanta, McVay said he erred by overdoing the prep during Super Bowl week. The Rams lost, 13-3.
“I kept kind of tinkering and tweaking and I think that wasn’t the right approach,” he said.
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McVay indicated that Tyler Higbee probably won’t be ready for the Super Bowl because of a knee injury the tight end suffered in the NFC title game against San Francisco. McVay said Higbee is not expected to practice this week but did not rule him out.
Running back Darrell Henderson, defensive lineman Sebastian Joseph-Day and cornerback Robert Rochell are expected to practice.
“There is a good chance those guys will be available for the game,” McVay said.
Staff writers Gary Klein and Jeff Miller contributed to this report.
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