This team, man.
Here are the many winners and few losers from the Bengals’ first road playoff win in team history:
Evan McPherson: Shooooooterrrrrrrr. Cincinnati’s rookie kicker has been Adam Vinateri-esque this January. He’s now 8-8 on field goals and made arguably the biggest kick in team history to get the Bengals the win. It’s only fitting that the game-winner was from beyond 50 yards, as it was his second of the game and 11th on the year.
Logan Wilson: Two weeks in a row, a Bengals linebacker makes a game-saving interception in the fourth quarter. Everyone will remember the interception, his fifth of the season, but Wilson was a fiend in run defense while Germaine Pratt was relatively ineffective in that regard. Coming up big in clutch moments is the new norm for this defense.
Joe Burrow: The man took an absolute BEATING tonight, and it didn’t matter. Burrow gutted out an impressive showing with his one blemish not being his fault. We can forgive no touchdowns and a tipped interception when he was sacked nearly 10 TIMES. Burrow ended with 348 yards on 28-37 passing. When he has time, he can beat basically anyone.
Mike Hilton: This was the Mike Hilton game Bengals fans expected when he was signed from the Pittsburgh Steelers. His blitz in the first quarter allowed Vonn Bell to get Cincinnati’s first sack of the game. But his presence as a blitzer didn’t stop there. As the Titans were about score early in the third, Hilton crept up to the line again and tipped a quick Ryan Tannehill pass in the air and hauled in the quarterback’s second interception of the game.
Jessie Bates III: The captain of the defense wasted no time making an impact. The very first play of the game had Ryan Tannehill’s throwing right to Bates in the secondary for Bates’ second interception of the season and his first since Week 8.
D.J. Reader: For all that talk about how the Bengals’ defensive line wouldn’t be physical enough to stop the Titans’ rushing attack, Reader proved that doubt to be invalid. Reader had a day in the Titans’ backfield, finishing with five solo tackles and two tackles for loss on Derrick Henry.
Clay Johnston: He only came in for one defensive snap, but he saved two points from being scored. The second-year linebacker came from behind Henry and tripped him up short of the goal-line on the Titans’ two-point conversion. That play may’ve won them the game.
Tee Higgins and Ja’Marr Chase: When Burrow had time to throw in the first half, he found Higgins more times than not. Higgins helped the offense sustain a drive for the first time with a couple catches that moved the chain late in the second quarter. He finished the first half with 71 yards on five catches. Chase’s 57-yard screen after making his childhood friend Kristian Fulton miss at the line helped the offense get three points early in the first.
The game came down to Chase getting open on the final drive, and a 19-yard out route got McPherson in field goal range. It also got him over the century mark for the second week in a row. Higgins and Chase combined for 12 catches and 205 yards.
C.J. Uzomah: Coming in with 71 yards is the heart and soul of the team right now. Uzomah got the Bengals in the right mindset before kickoff and came through with another solid outing.
Zac Taylor: It was far from a perfectly-coached game and there will be some criticism regarding play-calling with that offensive line, but Taylor just advanced past the favorite to win Coach of the Year, Mike Vrabel, and is now set to coach in the semifinals. Not bad for the guy who had a cup of coffee with Sean McVay.
The entire offensive line: This was the game that couldn’t happen for this unit. Not a single player had a good game against the Titans’ pass rush. There are many individual examples to point to, but it’s easier to just say it was an awful game.
What’s going to happen now is the entire world will say the Bengals’ offensive line isn’t good enough to for the team to go far, but the reality is, they made it further than anyone outside of the city imagined with the current unit. Of course, it needs to be upgraded in the offseason, no one in the world would’ve disputed that regardless of what happened in this game, but this performance is a narrative-setter.
Chidobe Awuzie: Twice did the Bengals’ best cornerback get toasted on deep A.J. Brown routes off of play action. Play action was Tannehill and Brown’s greatest weapon Saturday, and Awuzie couldn’t get a handle on staying with the Titans’ best receiver deep. At the end of the third quarter, Tannehill targeted the back of Awuzie’s jersey on a go ball and found Brown for the tying score.
Against the Chiefs or Bills, Awuzie needs to bounce back in a big way.
Samaje Perine: Very rarely do interceptions occur on swing passes to the running back, but when the back drops the ball, that becomes a possibility. Perine’s drop turned into an Amani Hooker interception, and the Titans proceeded to tie the game on the ensuing possession.