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Bengals top Titans on late field goal, make AFC title game

Former Gator Evan McPherson hits a 52-yarder as time expires and Cincinnati ends the NFL’s longest active road playoff skid.
Helmetless Cincinnati Bengals kicker Evan McPherson, a former Florida Gator, celebrates his winning field goal against the Tennessee Titans in the division playoffs Saturday at Nashville.
Helmetless Cincinnati Bengals kicker Evan McPherson, a former Florida Gator, celebrates his winning field goal against the Tennessee Titans in the division playoffs Saturday at Nashville. [ MARK HUMPHREY | AP ]
Published Jan. 23

NASHVILLE — Maybe, just maybe, these young Bengals really are that good.

Especially with the way they keep ending postseason droughts. And with their latest victory putting them in the franchise’s 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 Titans 19-16 in their division game 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, a former Florida Gator. “There’s not much more to be said. He’s just as cool as it gets.”

A week after snapping 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 Super Bowls by winning on their home field.

“We’re here to make some noise, and teams are going to have to pay attention to us,” Cincinnati quarterback Joe Burrow said.

Cincinnati will play in the title game at the winner of the Buffalo-Kansas City division matchup Sunday.

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. Burrow hit Pro Bowl rookie receiver Ja’Marr Chase with a 19-yard pass, then the Bengals ran twice to set up McPherson for the win.

“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 sacks in the postseason. Tennessee’s nine sacks tied the NFL playoff mark previously set by Kansas City against the then-Oilers on Jan. 16, 1994; Cleveland vs. the Jets on Jan. 3, 1987; the 49ers against the Bears on Jan. 6, 1985; and Buffalo against the Chiefs on Jan. 1, 1967.

Burrow threw for 348 yards.

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. (The Titans) 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 straight loss on their own field 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,” 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 awhile.”

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Tennessee had Derrick Henry, the 2020 AP NFL Offensive Player of the Year, on the field after he missed nine games with a broken foot. He ran for a touchdown and finished with 66 yards.

Tannehill finished with 220 yards passing. A.J. Brown had five catches for 142 yards.

“All day we were just shooting ourselves in the foot,” Brown said.

Tannehill summed up the pain of the loss: “This hurts. Hurts bad.”

––– By TERESA M. WALKER

• • •

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