A windy day in Nashville was the sight for a physical rematch of the AFC Divisional Round between the Cincinnati Bengals and Tennessee Titans. Joe Burrow and the offense overcame early struggles and pulled out a 20-16 victory on the road.
Six penalties plagued the first four drives of the game, with four going against the Bengals. An offensive pass interference infraction against Chris Evans ensued the offense’s anemic start, and the Titans were having equal trouble taking advantage of quality field position until the conclusion of the first quarter. Nick Westbrook-Ikhine’s 25-yard seam route helped setup Caleb Shudak’s first-career field goal from 33 yards out to make it a 3-0 game.
Hayden Hurst got his own seam route on the Bengals’ next drive. The 29-yard reception got the offense in scoring range for the first time, but a crucial Tee Higgins drop had them settling for a field goal. Evan McPherson sailed a 47-yarder through the wind gusts to tie it up at 3-3 early in the second quarter.
Up to this point, Derrick Henry was a non-factor running the ball, so the Titans set up a screen for the jumbo-sized running back that went for 69 yards. Cam Taylor-Britt came up with a high-effort forced fumble right as Henry was about to cross the goal line, but the ball bounced right to another rookie Treylon Burks in the end zone to give the Titans the first touchdown of the day. That was the last real positive moment from Henry, as he finished with just 38 yards on 17 carries.
Samaje Perine was the best running back on the field Sunday. He churned out 58 yards hard yards against the NFL’s no. 1 run defense and kickstarted a drive he would later finish in the end zone. Perine rattled off a 32-yard reception out of the backfield, and Hayden Hurst and Trayveon Williams each converted critical third downs.
Williams’ fingertip grab got the offense inside the red zone for the first time, and a bruising seven-yard run from Perine got the Bengals their first touchdown of the day.
Perine and Hurst had eight of the offense’s 12 receptions and 79 of their 122 receiving yards at the half. Tennessee had the opportunity to retake the lead just before the break, but Shudak’s second field goal was wide right from just 35 yards out.
The Bengals’ pass rush finally appeared to start the third quarter as Sam Hubbard got to Ryan Tannehill on a well-timed twist to force a three-and-out. The offense unfortunately couldn’t capitalize with La’el Collins getting flagged for holding on a third-and-one conversion attempt, and Tyler Boyd slipping out of his break on a questionable Tennessee grass field the next play.
Burrow fell victim to the field on the next drive after connecting with Tee Higgins and Boyd to move the chains. He was penalized for intentional grounding after slipping in the pocket trying to evade the pass rush. McPherson made it a 13-10 game from 38 yards out with just over a quarter remaining.
Tannehill and the Titans wasted no time evening the scoreboard. The veteran quarterback launched a 50-yard pass to Burks, who elevated over Taylor-Britt for a huge completion down the field, and drew a roughing the passer flag after releasing the throw to get the ball inside the 15-yard line. Cincinnati’s defense held next to the goal line and forced a field goal.
Higgins was kept quiet for the first three quarters, but he came alive to start the fourth, reeling in a 24-yard sideline grab that was only topped by his mossing of rookie Roger McCreary in the end zone for his touchdown of the season.
TEE HIGGINS IS A NO. 1 WR pic.twitter.com/SU61bUd0cg— PFF CIN Bengals (@PFF_Bengals) November 27, 2022
Sandwiched in between both plays was Trenton Irwin’s lone catch of the day, an impressive back shoulder grab that was challenged by Titans coach Mike Vrabel.
Higgins had more in store on the next drive. Burrow put every ounce of trust he had into a 29-yard dart to Higgins, who beat Kristian Fulton on a double move and came down with his seventh grab of the day. Higgins had 80 yards in the final period alone. He finished the game with 116 yards and a touchdown on seven receptions.
The Bengals were set to make it a seven-point game with 1:57 remaining, but a boneheaded penalty by Tennessee on the field goal gifted a first down, and three kneel downs from Burrow iced it.
Now 7-4 on the year, the Bengals have won three straight games for the first time all season. They’ll host the Kansas City Chiefs next week while looking to further boost their standings in the 2022-23 NFL playoffs.
This one calls for a massive Who Dey!!!