The Cincinnati Bengals continue to endure a post-season drought, and their latest win has netted them their first AFC Championship game in 33 years.
Rookie Evan McPherson kicked a 52-yard field goal as time ran out, ending the NFL’s longest active road playoff skid as the fourth-seeded Bengals beat the top-seeded Tennessee Titans 19-16 on Saturday.
“He has ice in his veins,” Bengals quarterback Joe Burrow said of McPherson. “There’s nothing more to say. That’s as cool as it gets.”
A week after ending a 31-year playoff win drought, the Bengals (12–7) finally won their first road game after losing their first seven. They reached the 1981 and 1988 Super Bowls by winning at their home turf.
The winners of the Buffalo Bills-Kansas City Chiefs matchup on January 30 in the Bengals AFC championship game will play in another AFC divisional-round game on Sunday.
The Bengals stopped Ryan Tanhill three times, setting up two of McPherson’s four field goals. Logan Wilson left Tanhill for 20 seconds in the Bengals 47. Joe Burrow hit Pro Bowl rookie receiver Ja’Mar Chase with a 19-yard pass, then the Bengals ran twice to set up McPherson for the win.
“It’s a kicker’s dream,” McPherson said, “to carry the game on his shoulders.”
Burrow was dismissed nine times as the Titans tied the NFL record held by four other teams for the most times in the postseason. The Bengals’ second-year quarterback threw 348 yards, and Chase conceded 109 yards.
Joe Mixon ran for the Bengals’ only touchdown, 16-yards on his first drive of the third quarter.
“We found a way around all year,” Burrow said. “Man, crazy, crazy game. It’s a really, really good team. Incredible defensive line. They had a great plan on defense. Credit to them, we finally found a way.”
The Titans (12-6) ended their 25th season in Tennessee as the AFC’s No. 1 seed with a third consecutive loss at their own ground. They have not won at home since the January 2003 season.
“I don’t think Ryan or I or anyone has done enough to win the game,” Titans coach Mike Wrabel said. “It goes like this. It will never be about one person, unless I am the head coach, it will take some time.
The Titans had Derrick Henry, the 2020 AP NFL Offensive Player of the Year, after he missed nine games with a broken leg. He ran for a touchdown and finished with 66 yards.
Tannehill was selected in the Titans’ first game. His second came on the first and goal in the Bengals 9 in the third. He finished with 220 yards. AJ Brown took five catches for 142 yards.
Burrow was the NFL’s most dismissed quarterback during the season, just ahead of Tannehill.
The Titans sacked Burrow on his first snap and had three in the first quarter. Burrow joined Donovan McNab as the only quarterback to have been sacked at least eight times in the playoffs and won. McNab and the Philadelphia Eagles won 20–17 in overtime against the Green Bay Packers.
Titans had plenty of chances to win.
Henry was stopped at 4th and 1st in the Bengals 37 instead of the Titans trying a long field goal for the lead with 7:16 remaining. After scoring 10 points within 90 seconds in the third quarter, tying it at 16, he got the ball back with 2:43 and plenty of time to drive for the winning field goal.
But the Titans showed little awareness of the clock, with only a play going on before the clock went off for a two-minute warning. In the third play, Wilson picked up Tanhill’s pass for Nick Westbrook-Eikhin, to prepare the Bengals for the winning field goal.
“All day we were just shooting ourselves in the foot,” Brown said of the Titans.
McPherson converted 50 yards or more for his 11th field goal, the most for a player in a season.
“He took the big step and got us where we needed to go,” Burrow said.
The Titans’ five sacks in the first half were the most in a playoff game since January 8, 2000, when they sacked Bills quarterback Rob Johnson five times in a game known for the Music City Miracle. Burrow was only the third quarterback since 1991 to be dismissed at least five times in the first half of a playoff game.