Bengals upset No. 1 Titans to advance to AFC Championship game

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — The Cincinnati Bengals continue to end playoff droughts, and their latest victory has them in their first AFC championship game in 33 years.

Rookie Evan McPherson threw a 52-yard field goal as time expired, lifting the fourth-seeded Bengals past the 19-16 seeded Tennessee Titans on Saturday to end the longest active skid in the NFL road playoffs.

“He’s got ice in his veins,” Cincinnati coach Zac Taylor said of McPherson. “There is not much more to say. He’s as cool as can be.

A week after ending a 31-year playoff drought, the Bengals (12-7) finally won their first playoff road game after losing their first seven. They reached the 1981 and 1988 Super Bowls by winning on their home turf.

Cincinnati will play in next Sunday’s AFC Championship Game against the winner of the Buffalo-Kansas City game in the other AFC Divisional Round game on Sunday.

The Bengals intercepted Ryan Tannehill three times, setting up two of McPherson’s four shots. Logan Wilson beat Tannehill with 20 seconds left at the Cincinnati 47. Joe Burrow hit rookie Pro Bowl receiver Ja’Marr Chase with a 19-yard pass, then the Bengals ran twice to set up McPherson for victory.

“It’s a kicker’s dream,” McPherson said, “to have the game on your shoulders.”

Burrow waived being sacked nine times as Tennessee tied an NFL mark held by four other teams for the most in the playoffs. The Bengals sophomore quarterback threw for 348 yards and Chase finished with 109 receiving yards.

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 round,” Burrow said. “Man, crazy, crazy game. It’s really a very good team. Incredible defensive line. They had a great defense plan. Thanks to them, we found a way to the end.

The Titans (12-6) wrapped up their 25th season at Tennessee with their third straight loss on home turf as the AFC’s No. 1 seed. They haven’t won at home since January 2003 in the playoffs.

“I don’t think Ryan or myself or anyone did enough to win the game,” Titans coach Mike Vrabel said. “That’s how it goes. It’s never going to be one person, not until I’m the head coach, which will take some time.

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

Tannehill was picked on the first play of the Titans game. His second came on the first and the Bengals 9 goal in the third. He finished with 220 passing yards. AJ Brown had five catches for 142 yards.

Burrow was the most sacked quarterback in the NFL during the season, just ahead of Tannehill.

The Titans fired him on his first snap and had three in the first quarter alone. Burrow joins Donovan McNabb as the only quarterback to be fired at least eight times in the playoffs and win. McNabb and Philadelphia won 20-17 in overtime against Green Bay.

The Titans had plenty of chances to win.

Henry was stopped fourth and first at the Cincinnati 37 instead of Tennessee attempting a long field goal for the lead with 7:16 to go. They also got the ball back with 2:43 to go and plenty of time to drive themselves to the winning field after scoring 10 points in 90 seconds late in the third quarter, tying it at 16.

But Tennessee showed little clock awareness, running just one play before the clock stopped for the 2-minute warning. In the third game, Tannehill’s pass to Nick Westbrook-Ikhine was caught by Wilson setting up the Bengals for the game-winning field goal.

“All day we’ve been shooting ourselves in the foot,” Brown said of the Titans.

McPherson converted for his 11th field goal from 50 yards or more, the most in a season for a player.

“He stepped in and got us where we need to go,” Burrow said.


Tennessee’s five sacks in the first half were the most in a playoff game since Jan. 8, 2000, when the Titans fired Buffalo quarterback Rob Johnson five times in the Music’s best-known game. 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.

Tennessee tied the NFL playoff mark previously set by Kansas City against the then-Oilers on January 16, 1994, Cleveland against the Jets on January 3, 1987; the 49ers against the Bears on January 6, 1985 and Buffalo against the Chiefs on January 1, 1967.


Titans LB David Long was injured early in the third quarter, but left the field. He missed six games with a hamstring injury. … Bengals Pro Bowl defensive end Trey Hendrickson, clear of a concussion that put him out of action last week, pulled away with 1:46 to play. It cost the Bengals a timeout they didn’t need.


The Bengals will wait to see if they play Kansas City or Buffalo next Sunday.

The Titans enter the offseason looking for additional modifications to return to the AFC Championship game.

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