Saturday's NFL playoffs: Bengals, 49ers advance on last-second field goals
Nashville, Tenn. — The Cincinnati Bengals just keep ending postseason droughts, and their latest victory has them in their first AFC championship game in 33 years.
Rookie Evan McPherson kicked a 52-yard field goal as time expired, lifting the fourth-seeded Bengals past the top-seeded Tennessee Titans 19-16 on Saturday to end the NFL's longest active road playoff skid.
“He's got ice in his veins,” Cincinnati quarterback Joe Burrow said of McPherson. “There’s not much more to be said. He’s just as cool as it gets.”
A week after snapping a 31-year playoff victory drought, the Bengals (12-7) finally won their first road game in the postseason after losing their first seven. They reached the 1981 and 1988 Super Bowls by winning on their home field.
Cincinnati will play in the AFC championship game next Sunday at the winner of the Buffalo-Kansas City matchup in the other AFC divisional round game Sunday.
The Bengals intercepted Ryan Tannehill three times, setting up two of McPherson's four field goals. Logan Wilson picked off Tannehill with 20 seconds left at the Cincinnati 47. Joe Burrow hit Pro Bowl rookie receiver Ja'Marr Chase with a 19-yard pass, then the Bengals ran twice to set up McPherson for the win.
“That’s a kicker’s dream,” McPherson said, "to have the game on your shoulders.”
Burrow shook off being sacked nine times as Tennessee tied an NFL mark held by four other teams for the most in the postseason. The Bengals' second-year quarterback threw for 348 yards, and Chase finished with 109 yards receiving.
Joe Mixon ran for the Bengals' lone touchdown, a 16-yarder on their first drive of the third quarter.
“We found a way all year,” Burrow said. "Man, crazy, crazy game. That’s a really, really good team. Unbelievable defensive line. They had a great plan on defense. Credit to them, we found a way at the end.”
The Titans (12-6) wrapped up their 25th season in Tennessee with their third straight loss on their own field as the AFC's No. 1 seed. They haven't won at home since January 2003 in the postseason.
“I don't think Ryan or myself or anybody did enough to win the game,” Titans coach Mike Vrabel said. “That’s how it goes. It's never going to be about one person, not as long as I'm head coach, which will be a while.”
Tennessee had Derrick Henry, the 2020 AP NFL Offensive Player of the Year, on the field after he missed nine games with a broken foot. He ran for a touchdown and finished with 66 yards.
Tannehill was picked off on the Titans' first play of the game. His second came on first-and-goal at the Bengals 9 in the third. He finished with 220 yards passing. A.J. Brown had five catches for 142 yards.
Burrow was the NFL’s most sacked quarterback during the season, just ahead of Tannehill.
The Titans sacked him on his first snap and had three in the first quarter alone. Burrow joins Donovan McNabb as the only quarterback to be sacked at least eight times in the playoffs and win. McNabb and Philadelphia won 20-17 in overtime against Green Bay.
The Titans had plenty of opportunities to win.
Henry was stopped on fourth-and-1 at the Cincinnati 37 instead of Tennessee trying a long field goal for the lead with 7:16 left. They also got the ball back with 2:43 left and plenty of time to drive for the winning field goal themselves after scoring 10 points within 90 seconds late in the third quarter, tying it up at 16.
But Tennessee showed little awareness of the clock, running only one play before the clock stopped for the 2-minute warning. On the third play, Tannehill’s pass to Nick Westbrook-Ikhine was picked off by Wilson setting up the Bengals for the winning field goal.
“All day we were just shooting ourselves in the foot,” Brown said of the Titans.
McPherson converted for his 11th field goal from 50 yards or longer, the most in a season for one player.
“He stepped up big and got us to where we need to go," Burrow said.
►San Francisco 13, (at) Green Bay 10: Robbie Gould lived up to his name.
On a field littered with snow flurries, Gould made a 45-yard field goal Saturday night as time expired that knocked off the top-seeded Packers 13-10 and possibly ended Aaron Rodgers’ tenure in Green Bay.
Gould has made all 20 of his career playoff field-goal attempts. His latest helped the 49ers complete an improbable comeback by scoring 10 unanswered points in the last five minutes.
“I always trust Robbie. He’s as good as gold, man,” Niners quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo said. “He always is.”
The 49ers (12-7) continued their postseason hex on Rodgers and advanced to an NFC championship game matchup Jan. 30 at either the Tampa Bay Buccaneers (14-4) or Los Angeles Rams (13-5). Those teams play Sunday in Tampa.
This marks the 17th conference championship appearance for the 49ers, the most by any team since conferences were formed in the 1970 merger. The 49ers had been tied with the Pittsburgh Steelers.
San Francisco’s win, coupled with the Cincinnati Bengals’ 19-16 victory over the Tennessee Titans earlier in the day, marked the first time both No. 1 seeds lost in the divisional round in the same season since 2010. Green Bay won at Atlanta and the New York Jets won at New England that season.
“It’s dangerous, man. When a team gets hot, it’s dangerous,” Garoppolo added. “So we’ve just got to keep this thing going, focus on next week now, and keep this thing rolling.”
Rodgers went 20 of 29 for 225 yards and dropped to 0-4 in career playoff starts against the 49ers. He’s the first quarterback in NFL history to lose four playoff starts to a single opponent.
He now enters an uncertain offseason. After skipping the Packers’ mandatory minicamp in a standoff with management, Rodgers said he was uncertain whether this would be his last year in Green Bay. Rodgers said last month he was keeping all options open.
Rodgers didn’t want to speculate on his future Saturday night, though he said he didn’t want to be part of a rebuild if he keeps playing.
“I don’t think it’s fair to anybody or myself to really go down those paths at this point,” Rodgers said. “It’s disappointing, sad and fresh. I’ll have conversations in the next week or so and start to contemplate after that.”
The Packers (13-5) earned the NFC’s top seed for a second straight season and were the league’s only unbeaten team at home, but again failed to reach the big game. They haven’t made it to the Super Bowl since their 2010 championship season.
“I just didn’t envision it like this,” said Green Bay’s Aaron Jones, who had nine catches for 129 yards and 12 carries for 41 yards.
San Francisco tied the game with 4:41 left thanks to a breakdown by Green Bay’s special teams, the Packers’ biggest weakness all season.
Jordan Willis’ outstretched left hand blocked a punt by Corey Bojorquez, who was kicking from the front of his end zone. Talanoa Hufanga picked up the ball at the 6-yard line and ran it in to make it 10-10.
After the Packers went three-and-out, the 49ers got the ball back at their 29 with 3:20 left and drove into field-goal range. Deebo Samuel delivered a 9-yard run on third-and-7 from the Green Bay 38, and the 49ers ran down the clock to set up Gould.
A.J. Dillon’s 6-yard touchdown run capped a 69-yard drive on the game’s opening possession that put the Packers ahead 7-0. Green Bay’s offense didn’t do much of anything after that.
Green Bay’s special teams fared even worse.
Well before that blocked punt, San Francisco’s Jimmie Ward blocked a 39-yard field-goal attempt from Mason Crosby on the final play of the first half, preventing the Packers from extending their lead to 10-0. The Packers also allowed Samuel to return the second-half kickoff 45 yards, setting up the 49ers’ first field goal.
“We thought our special teams had an advantage in this game,” 49ers coach Kyle Shanahan said. “We thought they had an opportunity to possibly win us the game. And to be able to say that and to actually come to fruition … was huge for those guys and huge for our team.”
San Francisco won by overcoming a brutal start from its offense. The 49ers had minus-10 yards in their first four series, three of which included third-down sacks. It was the first time the 49ers had opened a game with four straight three-and-outs since a 27-24 loss to the Minnesota Vikings on Sept. 27, 2009.
The 49ers didn’t get a single first down or pass completion until Garoppolo connected with George Kittle on a 15-yard gain with less than 6 ½ minutes left in the second quarter. Garoppolo was just 11 of 190 for 131 yards with an interception, but the 49ers still managed to win.
“It took everything,” Garoppolo said. “We knew it was going to. I mean, it was just offense, defense, special teams - everybody stepping up and doing their part. Wouldn’t have it any other way.”