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Analysis: Bengals' defense shines, Evan McPherson drills another winning kick

Cincinnati Enquirer logo Cincinnati Enquirer 1/23/2022 Kelsey Conway, Cincinnati Enquirer
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The Cincinnati Bengals upset the AFC’s No. 1 seed, the Tennessee Titans, on the road in Nashville on Saturday afternoon and will advance to the AFC Championship game.

Cincinnati will travel to either Buffalo or Kansas City for their next game, depending on who wins the other AFC divisional round game Sunday night.

"It feels great," Bengals head coach Zac Taylor said following the game. "This is the expectation for this team. This is not too big for these guys. I know we haven't been before, but it sure feels like we have. You see the attitude of the team, the confidence that they have that we're going to find a way. You can't replace the confidence these guys have earned of themselves and hopefully that carries us through for another couple games." 

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It was Evan McPherson’s 52-yard field goal with 0:04 left that won the game for the Bengals. Cincinnati’s rookie kicker has not missed a field goal in the postseason and is a perfect 8-for-8.

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The Bengals' defense forced three turnovers and it was linebacker Logan Wilson’s interception on Titans’ quarterback Ryan Tannehill that gave the ball back to the Bengals’ offense to win the game. Safety Jessie Bates and cornerback Mike Hilton recorded the other two interceptions in the win.

Cincinnati Bengals kicker Evan McPherson (2) kicks a field goal as time expires in the fourth quarter during an NFL divisional playoff football game, Saturday, Jan. 22, 2022, at Nissan Stadium in Nashville. The Cincinnati Bengals defeated the Tennessee Titans, 19-16, to advance to the AFC Championship game. © Kareem Elgazzar/The Enquirer Cincinnati Bengals kicker Evan McPherson (2) kicks a field goal as time expires in the fourth quarter during an NFL divisional playoff football game, Saturday, Jan. 22, 2022, at Nissan Stadium in Nashville. The Cincinnati Bengals defeated the Tennessee Titans, 19-16, to advance to the AFC Championship game.

Here’s what we learned from the Bengals’ divisional-round win over the Tennessee Titans:

Joe Burrow sacked a career-high 9 times, ties postseason record

It wasn’t pretty, to say the least, for Burrow on Saturday night. Cincinnati struggled to protect Burrow as he was sacked nine times, tying a postseason record for most sacks in a game.

Burrow has repeatedly said this Bengals team can win in different ways and today they showed it. Over the last month, Burrow has lifted his team to wins. Against the Titans, the Bengals showed they can win even when their quarterback is under duress all night. Burrow didn’t throw a touchdown pass in the win but finished the day 28-of-37 for 348 yards.

Cincinnati Bengals quarterback Joe Burrow (9) celebrates after an NFL divisional playoff football game, Saturday, Jan. 22, 2022, at Nissan Stadium in Nashville, Tenn. Cincinnati Bengals defeated Tennessee Titans 19-16. © Albert Cesare / The Enquirer Cincinnati Bengals quarterback Joe Burrow (9) celebrates after an NFL divisional playoff football game, Saturday, Jan. 22, 2022, at Nissan Stadium in Nashville, Tenn. Cincinnati Bengals defeated Tennessee Titans 19-16.

"Defense played unbelievable," Burrow said of what this performance said of his team. "We made plays when we needed to on offense. It wasn't always pretty but we got the job done. Like I've said all year, we can win a lot of different ways." 

As for if Tennessee's defense did anything that surprised Burrow, potentially leading to the high number of sacks he took, Cincinnati's franchise quarterback reiterated how tough of a game it was for him.

"They had a great rush plan," Burrow said. "They made it tough on us. They made it tough on me disguising coverages and blitzes and everything. They switched it up the whole game. They didn't stick to one thing. When one thing didn't work, they moved on to the next thing. That kept us on our toes." 

No matter how many hits he took, Burrow never look frazzled. The 25-year-old is praised by his teammates and coaches for his poise no matter the circumstance and it was more than apparent at Nissan Stadium in front of 69,242 fans in attendance. 

"If I had the answer for why Joe Burrow is good at what he does then, I don't know, I'd bottle it up and sell it," Taylor said of his quarterback. He's just special. that allows us to continue to call things the way we call it because even after a sack or negative play, you still feel like we're always going to get it back with the weapons that we got, Joe's ability to put a hit behind him and move on to the next play and find one of his freak shows, as he likes to call them. It makes our job a lot easier as play-callers. 

Cincinnati’s defense wins game for the Bengals, forcing three turnovers  

The Bengals understood winning the turnover margin would be necessary to come out of Nashville with a win. Linebacker Logan Wilson said they knew coming into Saturday's game turnovers could be the difference between their season-ending and moving on to the AFC Championship game. 

Cincinnati Bengals cornerback Mike Hilton (21) celebrates an interception with the Cincinnati Bengals defense in the third quarter during an NFL divisional playoff football game, Saturday, Jan. 22, 2022, at Nissan Stadium in Nashville. The Cincinnati Bengals defeated the Tennessee Titans, 19-16, to advance to the AFC Championship game. © Kareem Elgazzar/The Enquirer Cincinnati Bengals cornerback Mike Hilton (21) celebrates an interception with the Cincinnati Bengals defense in the third quarter during an NFL divisional playoff football game, Saturday, Jan. 22, 2022, at Nissan Stadium in Nashville. The Cincinnati Bengals defeated the Tennessee Titans, 19-16, to advance to the AFC Championship game.

From the opening play of the game when Bates picked Tannehill off, it was clear the Bengals’ defense was on a mission to get their hands on the ball. Defensive tackle D.J. Reader said Bates mentioned this week he thought he was going to record another interception. He backed up his words. 

Hilton's interception came in the third quarter when he batted Tannehill's pass down with the Titans in scoring territory at the 20-yard line. Cincinnati's veteran slot cornerback returned it 19 yards but Eli Apple's taunting penalty erased Hilton's return. 

And just as it looked like the Bengals and Titans were heading to overtime, Wilson picked off Tannehill with 0:28 on the clock at the 40-yard line ultimately giving Cincinnati one more chance to win the game. Wilson has now recorded five interceptions this year. 

When asked if his interception against the Titans is his favorite so far this season, Wilson laughed before saying "by far." 

"I mean that was a great play by Eli to break up the pass and then good things happen when you run to the ball," Wilson said. 

At this point in the season when the level of play as at its highest in the NFL, turnovers are typically what make a difference for teams in playoff games. 

The Bengals' focus on this aspect of their game is what makes them a dangerous team.

"You really just felt like something like that was going to happen, to be quite honest with you," Taylor said of Wilson's game-changing interception. "I just felt like that game wasn't over; it wasn't going to overtime. Something big was going to happen there. Logan just has a knack for finding those balls whether he's the one that just takes it away or gets them on the tips. He's done it all year." 

The Bengals can rely on rookie kicker Evan McPherson in high-stake moments

You could argue after rookie wide receiver Ja'Marr Chase, the Bengals' next best draft pick in their 2021 class was the selection of McPherson in the fifth round. The moment never seems too big for McPherson, who has been automatic in the postseason. 

It's not uncommon for playoff games to come down to a field goal. If this remains the case for the Bengals moving forward, they can breathe easy knowing McPherson is a guy they can rely on. 

"That's a kicker's dream to have the game on your shoulders," McPherson said. 

This article originally appeared on Cincinnati Enquirer: Analysis: Bengals' defense shines, Evan McPherson drills another winning kick

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