The Cincinnati Bengals started playing football in 1968. They had never won a road playoff game before Saturday night.
It seems impossible to go more than 50 years without one road playoff win. But the Bengals stood at 0-7 in those matchups.
Things are changing.
The Bengals, whose last playoff win before this season came in January of 1991, won their second playoff game in a week and are moving on to the AFC championship game with a 19-16 win over the Tennessee Titans, the No. 1 seed in the AFC. Bengals linebacker Logan Wilson secured a deflected interception with 20 seconds left near midfield. It was Ryan Tannehill's third interception of the game, and it was crushing. That set up a Bengals game-winning field goal as time expired.
There were multiple times Saturday when it seemed the Titans would storm back from a 10-point deficit and crush the Bengals' dreams. But Cincinnati's defense made some huge plays. And Joe Burrow, who tied an NFL postseason record by being sacked nine times, brought it home. He hit a huge 19-yard pass to Ja'Marr Chase to put the Bengals into field-goal range. Rookie Evan McPherson then hit the field goal to put the Bengals into the NFL's final four.
Titans, Bengals play a close one
The game started poorly for the Titans. Tannehill dropped back to pass and his throw to Julio Jones was picked off by safety Jessie Bates. Seven seconds into the game, the Titans already had turned it over. It was a sign of things to come. The Bengals kicked a field goal after that.
The first half was a defensive battle. The Bengals couldn't protect Burrow, allowing five sacks before halftime. Burrow kept coming and helped the Bengals take a 9-6 lead into halftime. The Titans got a touchdown from Derrick Henry but decided to go for a two-point conversion after a penalty on the extra point, and Henry couldn't get it. That decision loomed large in a close game.
The Bengals finally got into the end zone on their first drive of the third quarter. Joe Mixon took a handoff to the right, cut back all the way to the left and had an open lane for a 16-yard touchdown. The Bengals took a 16-6 lead.
The Titans answered right away. They got down to the Bengals' 9-yard line. If Bengals fans, after decades of frustration, were nervous the game was shifting to the Titans at that moment, it would have been understandable. But Bengals cornerback Mike Hilton blitzed and at full speed he jumped and batted Tannehill's pass to himself for an interception.
The Titans kept coming. Eventually they got a couple of huge plays, one from the defense and another on offense, that tied the game.
Teams tied late into fourth quarter
The Titans trailed 16-6 but tied it, with the help of a ruling that will be debated. Titans safety Amani Hooker grabbed an interception on a pass that went off running back Samaje Perine's hands, snatching it barely before it hit the ground. There were plenty of replay angles, but none showed conclusively that the ground helped him secure the catch. The call stood. Right after that, Tannehill hit A.J. Brown on a great pass to the end zone and Brown pulled it in one-handed to tie the game.
Burrow took a sack that really hurt the Bengals. They were in field-goal range, but on third down the rush got to him and he was sacked for a 16-yard loss. That turned a likely FG attempt into a punt with a little more than 11 minutes remaining. In past years, maybe a play like that would have crushed the Bengals.
The Titans had an interesting call in the fourth quarter. It was fourth-and-1. They could go for it or try a 53-yard field goal. The Titans went for it and gave it to Henry. A hole didn't open up right away and Henry was stopped cold in the backfield for a loss. That was a massive play for the Bengals.
The Titans had a chance to get in field-goal range in the final seconds, but Tannehill's pass was deflected and picked off by Wilson. The Titans defense played great but couldn't afford three huge interceptions by their quarterback.
The Bengals didn't play a perfect game, particularly on the offensive line. But they showed toughness and heart and finally got a road playoff win. This isn't the Cincinnati franchise that has spent so many years near the bottom of the NFL. You can feel things changing for the Bengals. Finally.