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The Cincinnati Bengals are heading to their first AFC Championship appearance since 1988 — set to match up against the victor of the Buffalo Bills and Kansas City Chiefs game.
Cincinnati survived a stalwart effort by Tennessee’s defense, winning the game, 19-16 with a game-winning field goal by rookie placekicker Evan McPherson.
Vrabel’s team was built to win games on either side of the ball across all season, en route to the AFC’s No. 1 seed. The Titans defense adapted to the Bengals’ combo attack of Burrow and rookie wideout Ja’Marr Chase by amassing nine sacks on the QB.
But Burrow remained poised, finishing the game with 28-of-37 passing, 348 yards and zero touchdowns and an interception behind a penetrable offensive line.
Ryan Tannehill and the offense produced a sluggish start, getting picked off on the first play of the game. Jessie Bates II nabbed the interception off Tannehill — a foreshadowing of his impact on this game.
The matchup also marked “King” Derrick Henry’s return from a Jones fracture injury.
Henry rushed for a two-yard score in the second quarter to tie the Bengals, 6-6 — preceding a failed two-point conversion by Tennessee.
Cincinnati’s “Money” McPherson knocked in a 54-yard field goal moments later to regain the lead (9-6) for the Bengals — his third make of the first half.
The Titans defense totaled five sacks on Burrow in the first half, setting up for their nine-sack total, which tied a postseason record.
Titans running back D’Onta Foreman broke off a 45-yard run in the third quarter to march the Titans back into Bengals territory. He finished as Tennessee’s lead rusher with four carries and 66 yards.
Bengals corner Mike Hilton spoiled Tennessee’s momentum on the following play: deflecting a Tannehill pass at the line of scrimmage to bounce the ball into his grips for the pick.
Cincinnati and Burrow were ready to push back against the Titans defense until a tipped pass off running back Samaje Perine led to an athletic interception by Tennessee’s Amani Hooker.
Tennessee appeared on their way to the victory as the defense’s ninth sack on Burrow late in the fourth gave the ball back to Tannehill with two minutes left in the fourth, tied 16-16.
Tannehill threw to a swarmed Nick Westbrook-Ikhine, which was batted up and picked off to give Cincinnati the ball back with 20 seconds remaining.
Ryan Tannehill finished with 15-of-24 passing for 220 yards, one touchdown and three costly interceptions.
Burrow squeezed in a final MVP drive, setting up “Money Mac” for the game-winning 52-yard field goal — ending the Titans’ promising playoff run.
Follow along on Twitter: @AlejandroAveela