For the first time since 1989—seven years before Joe Burrow arrived on this Earth—the Bengals are heading to the AFC Championship. They got there by stunning the top-seeded Titans, benefiting from a late interception in Saturday’s 21-18 Divisional round victory at Nissan Stadium. Evan McPherson won it on the final play, booting a 52-yard beauty through the uprights—his fourth field goal in as many attempts—as time expired.
Cincinnati received major contributions from Ja’Marr Chase (5-109-0) and Joe Mixon (105 yards from scrimmage, one touchdown), but the play of the game belonged to linebacker Logan Wilson, who intercepted Ryan Tannehill’s pass to Nick Westbrook-Ikhine with 20 seconds remaining. Wilson’s fifth interception of the season couldn’t have come at a more opportune time, taking the wind out of Tennessee’s sails in one fell swoop.
Tannehill will have plenty to answer for after a disastrous performance that saw him turn the ball over three times including on the Titans’ first play from scrimmage. Wilson’s pick gave the Bengals possession at their own 47-yard-line with Chase’s 19-yard catch on the following play putting them well within field goal range. And to think, none of it would have happened if officials had seen Bengals coach Zac Taylor signaling for a timeout moments before Tannehill’s fateful interception.
Taylor couldn’t get the line judge’s attention in time to stop the play, but it was actually for the best, with Wilson making the most important play of his career. Would we be viewing this game through a different lens if the play hadn’t happened? It’s impossible to know, but Taylor’s unsuccessful timeout presents a fascinating hypothetical, one that will probably eat at Titans fans for the rest of time.
The winner of Bills/Chiefs will host the Bengals in next Sunday’s AFC Championship. That game’s result will determine who represents the AFC in Super Bowl LVI February 13th in Los Angeles.