NFL playoffs: Bengals edge Titans on late field goal, reach AFC championship game
The Cincinnati Bengals just keep ending postseason droughts, and their latest victory has them in their first AFC championship game in 33 years.
Rookie Evan McPherson kicked a 52-yard field goal as time expired, lifting the fourth-seeded Bengals past the top-seeded Tennessee Titans 19-16 on Saturday to end the NFL’s longest active road playoff skid.
“He’s got ice in his veins,” Cincinnati coach Zac Taylor said of McPherson. “There’s not much more to be said. He’s just as cool as it gets.”
A week after ending a 31-year playoff victory drought, the Bengals (12-7) finally won their first road game in the postseason after losing their first seven. They reached the 1981 and 1988 season Super Bowls by winning on their home field.
Critics worried how the addition of Odell Beckham Jr. would affect the Rams’ culture, but he has been all good on and off the field, and his teammates love it.
The Bengals intercepted Titans quarterback Ryan Tannehill three times, setting up two of McPherson’s four field goals.
Logan Wilson picked off Tannehill with 20 seconds left at the Cincinnati 47-yard line. Joe Burrow hit Pro Bowl rookie wide receiver Ja’Marr Chase with a 19-yard pass, then the Bengals ran twice to set up McPherson for the victory.
“That’s a kicker’s dream,” McPherson said, “to have the game on your shoulders.”
Burrow shook off being sacked nine times as Tennessee tied an NFL mark held by four other teams for the most in the postseason. The Bengals’ second-year quarterback threw for 348 yards, and Chase finished with 109 yards receiving.
Joe Mixon ran for the Bengals’ lone touchdown, a 16-yarder on their first drive of the third quarter.
“We found a way all year,” Burrow said. “Man, crazy, crazy game. That’s a really, really good team. Unbelievable defensive line. They had a great plan on defense. Credit to them. We found a way at the end.”
The Titans (12-6) wrapped up their 25th season in Tennessee with their third consecutive loss on their own field coming in as the AFC’s No. 1 seed. They haven’t won at home since January 2003 in the postseason.
“I don’t think Ryan or myself or anybody did enough to win the game,” Titans coach Mike Vrabel said. “That’s how it goes. It’s never going to be about one person, not as long as I’m head coach, which will be a while.”
Tennessee had running back Derrick Henry, the 2020 Associated Press NFL offensive player of the year, on the field after he missed nine games because of a broken foot. He ran for a touchdown and finished with 62 yards rushing.
Tannehill was picked off on the Titans’ first play of the game. His second interception came on first and goal at the Bengals’ nine in the third. He finished with 220 yards passing. A.J. Brown had five catches for 142 yards.
Burrow was the NFL’s most sacked quarterback during the season, just ahead of Tannehill.
The Titans sacked him on his first snap and had three in the first quarter alone. Burrow joins Donovan McNabb as the only quarterback to be sacked at least eight times in the playoffs and win. McNabb and Philadelphia won 20-17 in overtime against Green Bay in January 2004.
Chargers chairman Dean Spanos is being sued by two of his nephews who allege that he secretly diverted money from the family trust that owns the team.
The Titans got the ball back with 2:43 left and plenty of time to drive for the winning field goal themselves after scoring 10 points within 90 seconds late in the third quarter, tying it up at 16.
But Tennessee showed little awareness of the clock, running only one play before the clock stopped for the two-minute warning. On the third play, Tannehill’s pass intended for Nick Westbrook-Ikhine was picked off by Wilson, setting up the Bengals for the winning field goal.
“All day, we were just shooting ourselves in the foot,” Brown said of the Titans.
McPherson converted for his 11th field goal from 50 yards or longer, the most in a season for one player.
“He stepped up big and got us to where we need to go,” Burrow said.
Titans’ sack attack
Tennessee’s five sacks in the first half were the most in a playoff game since Jan. 8, 2000, when the Titans sacked Buffalo quarterback Rob Johnson five times in the game best known for the “Music City Miracle.” Burrow was only the third quarterback to be sacked at least five times in the first half of a playoff game since 1991.
Overall, Tennessee tied the NFL playoff mark of nine sacks previously set by Kansas City against the then-Oilers on Jan. 16, 1994, Cleveland versus the Jets on Jan. 3, 1987; the 49ers against the Bears on Jan. 6, 1985, and Buffalo versus the Chiefs on Jan. 1, 1967.
Titans linebacker David Long was hurt early in the third quarter but walked off the field. He missed six games because of an injured hamstring. Bengals Pro Bowl defensive end Trey Hendrickson, cleared from a concussion that knocked him out of last week’s wild-card win, went to the sideline with 1:46 left. That cost the Bengals a timeout they didn’t wind up needing.
Bengals: Will wait to see whether they’re playing at Kansas City or Buffalo next Sunday.
Titans: Step into the offseason looking for further tweaks to get back to the AFC championship game.
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