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NASHVILLE — The Cincinnati Bengals last week broke their 31-year playoff drought, and with a young, explosive offense, they 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,” Burrow said of the team’s youthfulness, an acknowledgment that he will have less experience no matter who he faces in the A.F.C. championship game next week, whether his counterpart is Patrick Mahomes of Kansas City or Josh Allen of Buffalo.
“Tomorrow morning might be a different story, but right now, I feel great,” Burrow said.
Statistically, the game made no sense. Bengals quarterback Joe Burrow was fabulous when he had time to spot his fleet-footed receivers, completing 28 of 37 passes for 348 yards. The Titans blanketed Burrow’s favorite receiver, Ja’Marr Chase, who still managed to haul in five passes for 109 yards. Receiver Tee Higgins and tight end C.J. Uzomah each had seven receptions.
Burrow, though, was sacked repeatedly as the Titans defense ran in, around and through the Bengals’ porous offensive line. Tennessee defensive end Jeffery Simmons led the charge with three sacks of Burrow.
“That one was really, really hard,” Burrow said of the pressure of the game. Jeffery Simmons, wearing No. 98, had two sacks for Tennessee going into the fourth quarter and finished with three total. Credit… Christopher Hanewinckel/USA Today Sports, via Reuters The Titans became the fifth team to notch nine sacks in playoff game, joining the Chiefs (1994), the Browns (1987), the 49ers (1985) and Bills (1967).
It was the Bengals defense, though, that ultimately saved the day, intercepting Titans quarterback Ryan Tannehill three times, including on the Titans’ first and last plays of the game. The latter pick was most important as it came with just 20 seconds remaining.
On a drive that began with 2:43 left in the game, Tannehill slowly marched the Titans down the field trying to get the team in field goal position. Then on the fifth play of the series, on third-and-5 from the Titan’ 40-yard line, Tann