CINCINNATI — Evan McPherson stared down the most important kick of his life and drilled it on Saturday, putting the Cincinnati Bengals in the AFC title game for the first time in 33 years.
But first, the 22-year-old rookie called his shot.
“So he was talking to (backup quarterback Brandon Allen) when he was going out to kick,” quarterback Joe Burrow related with a chuckle. “He gave a little warmup swing and he said, ‘I guess we’re going to the AFC championship’ — before he went out to kick.”
McPherson’s 52-yarder as time ran out Saturday was his fourth field goal of the day without a miss in Cincinnati’s 19-16 win over Tennessee. He is 8-for-8 in two playoff games.
“He has ice in his veins,” Bengals coach Zac Taylor marveled.
The kick also was the fourth game-winner of the season for the guy teammates call “Shooter.”
“This is my job,” McPherson said. “This is what I do for a living. So it’s my job to stay cool, calm, collected in moments like those. And I’m just so happy that my team put me in the position to succeed and give me the opportunity to win the game.”
The Bengals were counting on that mental toughness and accuracy when they used a fifth-round pick (149th overall) to take him in the NFL draft last spring.
In three years at Florida, McPherson made 51 of 60 field-goal attempts (85 percent), including 5-of-8 from 50-plus yards. He missed just one of 150 extra-point attempts.
Cincinnati was seeking some stability and range after cutting Randy Bullock in midseason in 2020 and finishing with Austin Seibert, who lost the job to McPherson in 2021.
“It was a position for us, I don’t know if you want to call it unsettled but we were kind of middle-ground maybe at that spot,” Cincinnati special teams coach Darrin Simmons said. “We wanted to up the ante a little bit, knowing we had a quarterback that was probably going to get us in position to score a lot of points. You know, having a good solid kicker, somebody you can count on in tight spots like this is a huge, huge deal for us.”
Burrow knows steely-eyed confidence when he sees it.
“We knew exactly what we had as soon as he walked into the building in camp and we just saw how he carried himself,” Burrow said. “Obviously everyone at this level can kick through the uprights, but it’s how you handle yourself in the locker room that shows us that you have the confidence to go out there and make a kick like this and perform the way he did in a game like this. We knew exactly what kind of guy we had in camp.”
Including the playoffs, McPherson has made 36 of 41 field-goal attempts (87.8 percent), including 11 of 13 from 50-plus yards, while converting 49 of 51 PATs.
Two of the field-goal misses came in a wild 25-22 overtime loss to the Packers in Week 5. A 57-yard attempt in the fourth quarter hit the right upright. A 49-yard kick in overtime floated just left in a swirling wind.
He rebounded from his worst day as a pro to make 23-of-25 the rest of the regular season.
McPherson is getting plenty of attention after his called shot and no-doubt kick put the Bengals in the AFC championship game Sunday in Kansas City.
He wasn’t born when Cincinnati last won a conference title — only two players on the current roster were alive then — but McPherson is able to appreciate the significance when he sees what’s happening in the championship-starved city.
“It’s really special just that our team is kind of creating our own legacy,” he said. “And I think this Bengal team will be remembered forever. And just the excitement that we brought to the city of Cincinnati, I think is awesome. And I mean, the city’s on fire.”