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Unheralded defense lifts Bengals into AFC Championship

The Bengals’ resurgence this season has been led by offensive stars Joe Burrow and Ja’Marr Chase. On Saturday, nevertheless, they have been merely the supporting actors for a Cincinnati defense coached by a Staten Island native and that includes a number of gamers most followers have by no means heard of.

That Bengals intercepted Titans quarterback Ryan Tannehill thrice, the ultimate one with 20 seconds left within the sport, and didn’t permit Derrick Henry a run longer than 9 yards on the way in which to a 19-16 victory within the AFC Divisional playoffs. The victory despatched the Bengals to the AFC Championship sport for the primary time since 1988.

The marquee names on offense took a backseat to names reminiscent of Lou Anarumo, Logan Wilson and sure, Eli Apple.

“Defense played unbelievable and we made plays when we needed to on offense,” stated Burrow, who was sacked 9 instances. “It wasn’t always pretty but we got the job done. Like I’ve said all year, we can win a lot of different ways. The defense came up strong today.”

That they did.

Let’s begin on the finish.

With 20 seconds left within the fourth quarter, Tannehill rifled a cross towards Nick Westbrook-Ikhine, however Apple, the previous Giants first-round choose, bought his arm in entrance of the receiver, sending the ball excessive into the air. Wilson, a 2020 third-round choose from Wyoming, was there to intercept the ball on the Bengals’ 47-yard line.

Logan Wilson intercepts Ryan Tannehill’s cross within the closing seconds of the Bengals’ 19-16 win over the Titans.

Burrow then hit Chase for a 19-yard achieve to arrange the game-winning 52-yard subject purpose from rookie kicker Evan McPherson. It was McPherson’s fourth subject purpose of the sport.

It was becoming that the Bengals’ defense got here up with the massive play on the finish of the sport. They had performed so all day.

Bengals security Jessie Bates III bought issues began on the primary play from scrimmage, when he jumped in entrance of Julio Jones to select off a Tannehill cross. That led to McPherson’s first subject purpose of the sport.

The Titans bought on the board in the course of the second quarter when Henry scored from 3 yards out. It was Henry’s first sport since Halloween, when he broke his foot. Henry’s return was the story of the week getting into this sport. But nobody advised the Bengals line of defense they have been purported to be props for Henry to run by. He ended up with 62 yards on 20 rushes.

The Bengals didn’t play an ideal sport. They lined up with 12 males on the sphere for the Titans’ point-after attempt following Henry’s landing run. That allowed the Titans to maneuver the ball to the 1 and try a two-point conversion. But Cincinnati stuffed Henry and the sport stayed tied at 6-6. That one level loomed massive when the sport was tied within the fourth quarter.

The Titans had some huge performs within the sport, however struggled to maintain drives. They solely had one drive longer than seven performs and solely ran 52 complete performs within the sport. Titans coach Mike Vrabel determined to not go for it on a fourth-and-3 and a fourth-and-2 within the first half, displaying respect for the Cincinnati defense.

Titans quarterback Ryan Tannehill is sacked by Mike Hilton (prime proper) and Vonn Bell throughout the Bengals’ win.

Tennessee regarded as if it was getting going early within the third quarter, driving to the Cincinnati 9. But Bengals cornerback Mike Hilton blitzed Tannehill, tipped his cross try and intercepted it, preserving a 16-6 Bengals lead.

With 7:16 left within the fourth quarter and the rating tied at 16-16, the Bengals stopped the Titans on the Cincinnati 35 on back-to-back makes an attempt at gaining one yard. Tannehill bought dropped on a third-and-1 run and Henry couldn’t choose up the yard on fourth down.

All of that arrange Wilson’s dramatic choose and McPherson’s kick.

“This is the expectation for this team,” Bengals coach Zac Taylor stated. “This is not too big for these guys. I know we haven’t been here before but it sure feels like we have.”

Anarumo deserves a sport ball after this one. The 55-year-old Bengals defensive coordinator is a former Giants assistant who grew up on Staten Island. When he was a pupil at Wagner, he additionally coached the JV staff at Susan E. Wagner High School. On Saturday, he made the Titans appear like the JV.

The Bengals will certainly be heavy underdogs within the AFC Championship sport whether or not it’s towards the Chiefs or the Bills. Just don’t inform them that.

“I’m tired of the underdog narrative,” Burrow stated. “We’re a really, really good team. We’re here to make noise and teams are going to have to pay attention to us. … We’re coming for it all.”

You’ve been warned.