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NASHVILLE — The Cincinnati Bengals last week broke their 31-year playoff drought and, with a youthful and explosive offense, looked 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 threw his fourth and final field goal Saturday, a 52-yarder. which divided the amounts over time. expired.

The Bengals, who had three interceptions, play the winner of the Chiefs-Bills game on Sunday and travel to Kansas City or Buffalo.

“We don’t know what we don’t know,” quarterback Joe Burrow said of the team’s youth, acknowledging he’ll have less experience no matter who his team faces when of the AFC Championship game next week, whether his counterpart is Patrick Mahomes, 26, of Kansas City or Josh Allen, 25, of Buffalo. Burrow, 25, is only in his second season in the NFL, an experience gap that separates him from his peers.

“Tomorrow morning might be a different story, but right now I feel great,” Burrow said.

Despite the many hits, Burrow threw for 348 yards on 28 of 37 passes with one interception. His Saturday counterpart, Ryan Tannehill, suffered just one sack but was condemned by three interceptions.

Statistically, the game made no sense. Burrow was fabulous when he had time to spot his fleet-foot receivers, completing 28 of 37 passes for 348 yards. The Titans covered Ja’Marr Chase, who still managed to haul five passes for 109 yards. Wide receiver Tee Higgins and tight end CJ Uzomah each had seven receptions.

Burrow, however, was sacked multiple times as the Titans defense raced in, around, and through the porous Bengals offensive line. Tennessee defensive end Jeffery Simmons led the charge with three sacks from Burrow.

“That one was really, really tough,” Burrow said of the pressure he faced throughout the game.

Credit…Christopher Hanewinckel/USA Today Sports, via Reuters

The Titans became the fifth team to score nine sacks in the playoff game, joining Kansas City (1994), Browns (1987), 49ers (1985) and Bills (1967).

It was the Bengals defense, however, that ultimately saved the day, intercepting Tannehill on the Titans’ first and last plays of the game, and once in between. The final choice was the most important because there were only 20 seconds left.

On a drive that started with 2:43 left in the game, Tannehill slowly walked the Titans down the field trying to get the team into field goal position. Then, on the fifth play of the series, third and fifth from the Titan’s 40-yard line, Tannehill’s pass was knocked down by cornerback Eli Apple and carried by linebacker Logan Wilson.

Burrow, who had a stellar season throwing for over 4,600 yards, had another chance to add to his resume by stealing a second playoff victory. From the Bengals’ 47-yard line, Burrow quickly hit Chase to move the ball to the Titans’ 35-yard and into a decent field goal position.

The Bengals lost a few more seconds before McPherson connected for the game winner.

Had Cincinnati’s offensive line been more efficient, the Bengals might have won the game easily as the team held the ball about seven minutes longer than the Titans on the night, despite returning the excellent Tennessee running back Derrick Henry after an absence. more than two months.

Indeed, the match started under the best auspices for the Bengals. On the first play from scrimmage, Cincinnati safety Jessie Bates intercepted Tannehill. With great field position, the Bengals looked ready to strike. But in a game-defining pattern, Burrow was sacked on the first play from scrimmage. A late game penalty tied up the promising player and the Bengals settled for a field goal, not a touchdown.

Cincinnati kicked three of them in the first half and entered the locker room up front, 9-6.

The Titans, meanwhile, looked rusty after a bye week. Tannehill missed receivers, was sacked, rushed throws and Henry — who finished with 62 yards on 20 carries — didn’t seem to help much.

The Titans crafted a solid practice midway through the second quarter. Tannehill connected with his two best receivers, AJ Brown and Julio Jones. On first and goal, Henry lined up in the wildcat, took the snap and scored, much to the delight of the home crowd who had called his name.

Henry and the Titans, however, failed to score on a 2-point attempt. In the end, these 2 extra points would not have counted because the last field goal of the Bengals was just enough.

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