NASHVILLE — The Bengals made their first-ever playoff road win a thriller.
Eli Apple tipped a Ryan Tannehill pass and Logan Wilson intercepted with 20 seconds remaining at the Cincinnati 47. Joe Burrow completed a pass to Ja’Marr Chase to the Tennessee 34 with 15 seconds left. Evan McPherson then sent the Bengals to the AFC Championship with a 52-yard field goal, his fourth of the game, giving the Bengals a 19-16 win.
The Bengals will play the winner of Sunday’s game between the Chiefs and Bills for the right to go to Super Bowl LVI in Los Angeles.
Money. Mac. Shooter. McPherson. Legend.
— Cincinnati Bengals (@Bengals) January 23, 2022
Burrow was sacked nine times on the day, an NFL playoff record for a winning team.
“Good,” Burrow answered when asked how he felt after the game. “Tomorrow morning may be a different story but right now I feel great.”
Jessie Bates intercepted Ryan Tannehill’s first pass of the day. Mike Hilton added another in the third quarter.
The Bengals originally had a chance at a game-winning drive with over six minutes left after stopping Derrick Henry on fourth-and-1 at the Cincinnati 35. But Burrow took two of his nine sacks on the day as the offensive line had no answers for the much-ballyhooed Titans defensive front.
The Bengals were 0-7 previously on the road in the playoffs.
The game couldn’t have started much better for the Bengals. On the first snap of the game, Jessie Bates intercepted Ryan Tannehill on a pass intended for Julio Jones. The pick set the Bengals up in great shape at the Tennessee 42.
But the Bengals could do little with their good fortune. Burrow was sacked on his first snap of the game by Naquan Jones and Denico Autry. The Bengals briefly recovered on a 21-yard screen pass. That put the Bengals at Tennessee’s 24. But a delay of game stalled the drive and the Bengals settled for a 38-yard Evan McPherson field goal and a 3-0 lead.
The Bengals increased it to 6-0 following a 57-yard pitch-and-catch between Burrow and Chase, reminiscent of their connection in Baltimore.
Watch on CBS pic.twitter.com/EDohbrWLoq
— Cincinnati Bengals (@Bengals) January 22, 2022
Only this time, it didn’t go the distance as the Bengals and Burrow were under constant pressure. McPherson’s 45-yarder split the uprights and the Bengals had a six-point advantage.
Burrow was sacked three times in the first quarter, marking the first time since Super Bowl XXXIX (when the Patriots sacked Donovan McNabb three times in the opening quarter) that a team recorded three sacks in a quarter of a postseason game.
Sack Attack ⚔️ @Bud_Dupree
— Tennessee Titans (@Titans) January 23, 2022
The Titans offense finally got on track thanks to an explosive play downfield. Ryan Tannehill found A.J. Brown in a broken coverage on the other side of midfield. The 41-yard completion put the Titans at the Cincinnati 43. The Titans evened the score, 6-6, on a 3-yard direct snap run from Henry. The Bengals were called for too many men on the field and the Titans decided to go for the two-point conversion. Clay Johnston tackled Henry from behind to keep him a half-yard shy of the goal line.
The Bengals reclaimed the lead with an efficient four-minute drive, keyed by passes of 15 and 22 yards to Tee Higgins, as the Bengals got to the Tennessee 20. But again, the combination of the Titans’ front and the Bengals offensive line made things a nightmare for Burrow. He took a 12-yard sack on third down that pushed the Bengals back to the 36. McPherson drilled a 54-yard field goal to put the Bengals ahead, 9-6 going to the half, despite five sacks of Burrow.
— NFL (@NFL) January 22, 2022
The Bengals had seven yards rushing in the first half. They had 41 yards on five carries on their first drive of the second half, a drive that featured a 7-yard up-the-middle run from Burrow on third-and-5 from the Tennessee 23. One play later, as Mike Vrabel was desperately trying to put his team in defensive position, Mixon ran a perfect cut-back, backside seal run untouched into the end zone and the Bengals had a 16-6 lead.
The Titans had their crowd roaring after D’Onta Foreman ripped off a 45-yard run down to the Bengals 9. But on the next play, Mike Hilton intercepted Ryan Tannehill and returned it to the Titans 39. Eli Apple stood over Ryan Tannehill and said something and was called for a taunting personal foul.
The Bengals couldn’t do anything with interception and punted. The Titans got another big play when Chidobe Awuzie fell down, leaving A.J. Brown alone in the middle of the field for a 41-yard play. The Titans converted that into a 34-yard field goal and the Bengals lead was down to seven, 16-9.
The controversy of the game occurred on the Bengals’ next possession. Burrow threw a pass into the left flat for Samaje Perine. The ball careened off Perine’s hands and into the hands of Amani Hooker. Replays clearly showed the tip of the ball hitting the grass as Hooker grabbed the ball. But the interception was allowed to stand and the Titans had the ball at the Cincinnati 27. Three plays later, Tannehill found Brown down the right sideline and beat Awuzie for the game-tying touchdown.
He's cooking! 👨🏾🍳 @1kalwaysopen_
— Tennessee Titans (@Titans) January 22, 2022
In addition to being sacked nine times, Burrow completed 28-of-37 passes for 348 yards and the interception off Perine’s drop.
Ja’Marr Chase became the first rookie in NFL history with 100-yard receiving games in his first two playoff games, finishing with 109 yards on five catches. Tee Higgins added 97 yards on seven catches.
— Mike Petraglia (@Trags) January 23, 2022