Bengals top Titans to reach NFL’s AFC championship game

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Kicker Evan McPherson (right) of the Cincinnati Bengals hits the game winning field goal against the Tennessee Titans in the AFC Divisional Playoff game on Saturday. AFP

The Cincinnati Bengals busted another NFL playoff drought Saturday as rookie Evan McPherson kicked a 52-yard field goal as time expired for a 19-16 victory over the Tennessee Titans.

The triumph over the top-seeded Titans in Nashville put the Bengals into their first AFC championship game in 33 years – and gave the Bengals a first postseason road victory after seven defeats.

“Very intense”, Bengals quarterback Joe Burrow said of game in which Cincinnati intercepted Titans quarterback Ryan Tannehill three times.

With 20 seconds remaining and the score tied at 16-16, Luke Wilson picked off Tannehill at the Cincinnati 47 yard line. Burrow connected with rookie receiver Ja’Marr Chase with a 19-yard pass and the Bengals ran the ball twice to set the stage for McPherson’s game-winner.

“Ice in his veins,” Burrow said of the rookie kicker, who had two field goals of more than 50 yards.

The Titans got off to a nightmare start as Tannehill was intercepted on his opening throw, and Cincinnati promptly took a 3-0 lead on McPherson’s first field goal of the game.

McPherson’s 45-yard field goal with 2:15 left in the first quarter made it 6-0, but the Titans pulled level in the second quarter on Derrick Henry’s three-yard touchdown run, which was followed by an unsuccessful two-point conversion attempt.

Henry, who was back in action after missing nine games with a broken foot, ran for 66 yards.

Although they led most of the way, the Bengals didn’t have it easy. Burrow was sacked a playoff record-equalling nine times.

Cincinnati scored their first touchdown in their opening drive of the third quarter, taking a 16-6 lead on Joe Mixon’s 16-yard run to the end zone.

Tennessee then threatened, moving to the Cincinnati nine-yard line before cornerback Mike Hilton picked off Tannehill.

The Titans got another chance when defender Amani Hooker dived to grab an interception of a Burrow pass that Samaje Perine couldn’t control.

It took a lengthy review to determine Hooker did indeed secure the ball before it was on the ground, and soon after Tannehill hit AJ Brown in the end zone, Brown grabbing the ball with one hand for a touchdown that tied the game.

“We found a way,” said Burrow, who threw for 348 yards. “Man it was a crazy, crazy game. That’s a really, really good team, unbelievable defensive line.

“They had a great plan on defense, but we found a way at the end.”

Burrow said the Bengals – whose first-round win was their first playoff victory in 31 years – would take a night to savor the victory, then start preparing for their next opponent.

They’ll face the winner of Sunday’s AFC Divisional Round game between the Buffalo Bills and Kansas City Chiefs.