The Cincinnati Bengals last week broke their 31-year playoff drought, and with a young, explosive offense, seemed like this year’s dark horse contender.
And now they officially are. The No. 4-seeded Bengals overcame nine sacks and six penalties to shock the top-seeded Tennessee Titans, 19-16, when rookie kicker Evan McPherson kicked his fourth and final field goal Saturday, a 52-yarder that split the uprights as time expired.
The Bengals, who had three interceptions of their own, will face the winner of the Chiefs-Bills game on Sunday, and will travel to either Kansas City or Buffalo.
“We don’t know what we don’t know,” quarterback Joe Burrow said of the team’s youthfulness, an acknowledgment that he will have less experience no matter who his team faces in the A.F.C. championship game next week, whether his counterpart is Patrick Mahomes, 26, of Kansas City or Josh Allen, 25, of Buffalo. Burrow, 25, is in just his second N.F.L. season, an experience gap that separates him from his peer
By the time Cincinnati Bengals quarterback Joe Burrow made it to the Tennessee Titans’ 23-yard line on the first drive of the third quarter, he should have been exhausted.
Burrow had already been sacked six times, which was tied for the most sacks he had taken all year. At that point, he had taken 11 hits. He had already tried on the first five drives of the game to carry an offense that couldn’t protect him from getting slammed into the ground.
Then on third-and-5, Burrow didn’t see any receivers open. So he scrambled 7 yards and dove for the first-down line. On the very next play, the Bengals scored their first touchdown of the game.
On Saturday at Nissan Stadium, the Bengals beat the Titans, 19-16, to advance to the AFC championship game. The Bengals will play in their first AFC title game since the 1988 season.
“I’m tired of the underdog narrative,” Burrow said. “We’re a really good team, and we’re here to make noise. Teams will have to pay attention to us.”
It was a miracle finish fitting for a miracle season. With 20 seconds left in the fourth quarter, Bengals linebacker Logan Wilson picked off Titans quarterback Ryan Tannehill. On the following play, Burrow delivered again under pressure.
In a game where he took a career-high nine sacks, Burrow delivered in the final seconds. With a 19-yard throw to wide receiver Ja’Marr Chase, Burrow put the Bengals in field-goal range.