All week, the Cincinnati Bengals have asked “Why not us?” as they look to continue their Cinderella story run through the NFL playoffs.
Now, thanks to a couple of Titans’ turnovers and a confident rookie kicker, they’ll get to try their odds in the conference championship next week.
With time expiring, rookie kicker Evan McPherson connected on a 54-yard field goal to punch the Bengals to the AFC Championship for the first time since 1988.
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Bengals QB Joe Burrow finished with 348 passing yards on 27 of 38 attempts, while Titans quarterback Ryan Tannehill finished with 220 passing yards and three interceptions. Tennessee’s A.J. Brown led all receivers with 142 yards, followed by Cincinnati's Ja’Marr Chase with 109 receiving yards.
On the defensive side, Titans’ defensive tackle Jeffery Simmons recorded a game-leading three sacks to contribute to his team’s nine sacks on the game.
This was the first ever road win for the Bengals in franchise history.
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Tannehill’s night was bookended by interceptions, the last of which proved costly. The Bengals built an early 6-0, thanks to two field goals, with the first coming off an interception by Tannehill.
In the second quarter, the Titans’ offense settled in and marched downfield for a 3-yard rushing touchdown by Derrick Henry. This was Henry’s first game back since fracturing his foot -- originally believed to be a season-ending injury -- in Week 8 of the regular season against the Colts. The Titans’ two-point conversion was unsuccessful, leaving the score tied at six apiece.
The Titans’ defense recorded two of their nine sacks on the night in the following drive, forcing the Bengals to settle for a field goal. At the half, Tennessee trailed Cincinnati 9-6.
The Bengals’ offense continued to bring the heat after the break. A rushing touchdown by Joe Mixon, who pranced into the end zone to push their lead to double digits, followed by another turnover by Tannehill seemed all but ready to send the Titans into a spiral.
However, they rallied a quick comeback. A field goal by Tennessee and an interception by Titans’ safety Amani Hooker brought Tannehill and the offense back onto the field for what could’ve been the play of the game. From 40-plus yards back in the pocket, Tannehill found Brown for a one handed catch that tied the game at 16.
With the Titans’ defense rolling and the game all tied up, fans in Nissan Stadium started to breathe a collective sigh of relief. Then, deja vu set in.
Tannehill took the snap under center with 20 seconds left looking to move from the 25 yard line into field goal range. The pass, intended for wide receiver Nick Westbrook-Iklhine, bounced in the air before landing in the hands of Bengals linebacker Logan Wilson.
With time running out and 53 yards to the end zone, Burrow hit Chase for a quick 19-yard gain and then left things in the hands of the Bengals’ special teams, who did not disappoint.
The Bengals now face the winner of the Chiefs and Bill in the AFC Championship on Sunday, Jan. 30 at 3:05 p.m., aired on CBS.