2021 NFL playoffs: What we learned from Bengals' win over Titans in Divisional Round

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  1. Evan McPherson's veins run with ice water. As time expired, the rookie kicker booted the game-winning 52-yard field goal to send the Bengals to the AFC Championship Game. Money Mac was brilliant all day, going 4 of 4 on field goals in a tight-fought game, including two from 50-plus yards. Zac Taylor's willingness to give up two yards on the play before McPherson's game-winner underscored the team's confidence in the young kicker. The rookie made a bad third-down sack by Joe Burrow late in the first half moot by banging a 54-yarder. McPherson became the first player in NFL history to make four-plus FGs in multiple games in a single postseason. None of McPherson's boots were even in doubt off his foot, including his game-winner. In a defensive battle, McPherson's conversions were the difference in Cincy knocking off the AFC's No. 1 seed.
  2. Joe Burrow overcomes Titans sack-fest. Tennessee pounded Burrow all game, racking up nine sacks, tied for most in the postseason in NFL history. Jeffery Simmons was unblockable, gobbling up Burrow three times. Despite the Titans dominating an overmatched Bengals offensive line, Burrow came through in the clutch. Burrow's rifle to Ja'Marr Chase to set up the game-winning field goal showed the QB's mettle. Generating 348 passing yards seems unimaginable, given that he was pressured on 32.6 percent of his dropbacks. The Bengals feasted off of yards after catch as Burrow was forced to throw short all day -- just three pass attempts of 15-plus air yards and none of 20-plus. As a result, Cincy generated a whopping 242 yards after catch. This season, the Bengals divebombed opponents into submission, but as Saturday became a grind-it-out game, Burrow and Co. proved they could win the dogfight, too.
  3. Ryan Tannehill, Titans offense stuck in mud. What a waste of a sterling defensive performance in Tennessee. The Titans offense couldn't get off the ground in the first half, netting just eight first downs on six drives. The contest got off to an ominous start for the No. 1 seed, with Tannehill tossing an interception on the first play from scrimmage. He'd throw two more on the day, all proving costly. The second INT cost Tennessee points in the red zone. The final tipped pass set up Cincy for the game-winning drive late when the Titans had the ball near mid-field with a chance to set up their own game-ender. It was a lousy day for Tannehill, who missed too many passes. He overshot A.J. Brown deep early, missed a crosser later, and never seemed in sync. With Derrick Henry not looking like himself coming off injury (20 carries for 62 yards and a TD), including getting stuffed on fourth-and-short when he stuttered --, the Titans needed Tannehill to step up. Outside of one gorgeous TD pass to Brown, the QB didn't come through.
  4. Bengals D proves they can hang. Cincy came out flying from the get-go, forcing Tannehill into tough spots. Creative blitzes provided pressure on the QB and forced errant throws. Aside from allowing Brown to go off (5/142/1), the secondary was lock-down. Jessie Bates showed once again he's one of the most underrated safeties in the NFL. Mike Hilton's magnificent tipped INT on a slot blitz proved pivotal. Even without Larry Ogunjobi, the run defense performed admirably against Henry, holding the RB to just 3.1 yards per carry. The improvement of the Cincy defense has flown under the radar this season. Saturday, on the biggest stage, they forced turnovers in droves and had an answer to parry every Titans punch.
  5. Fortune favors the Bengals. Call it luck or good timing, but several plays tipped the Bengals way in a close-fought win. A false start wiped out a Burrow sack on the opening drive that could have pushed Cincy out of field goal range. A late timeout took away another sack. A Bengals penalty on a Titans PAT attempt caused Mike Vrabel to go for 2 early, which Cincy stuffed. That decision had the Titans tied late and still throwing instead of up one and churning the clock. Then CBS cameras caught Taylor attempting to call timeout before Tannehill's game-sealing INT. The timeout wasn't granted, thankfully for Cincy. Now the No. 4 seed awaits the winner of the Chiefs-Bills bout on Sunday to see where they head in the AFC Championship Game.


NFL Research: Joe Burrow is the first QB drafted No. 1 overall to win a Divisional Round playoff game within his first two seasons.


Next Gen Stat of the game: Ja'Marr Chase generated five catches for 109 yards, of which 95 came after the catch. His first four catches went for -1 air yards, -2 air yards, 0 air yards, and 0 air yards. His only catch beyond the line of scrimmage was the final reception which went for 17 air yards to set up the game-winning field goal.

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