NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Minutes after Cincinnati Bengals rookie Evan McPherson converted a game-winning, 52-yard field goal to upset the No. 1 seed Tennessee Titans, the victors began to jog back to the locker room.
“Ya’ll gotta stop doubting us. Stop doubting this shit,” Bengals cornerback Mike Hilton yelled. “This shit’s for real. C’mon now, another week.”
The No. 4 seed Bengals weren’t seen as a Super Bowl contender heading into the 2021 season, yet they are now just one win away from playing for a Lombardi Trophy. Cincy is headed to the AFC Championship for the first time since the 1988 season.
The Bengals weren’t given anything in the gritty, 19-16 victory. In fact, Joe Burrow was sacked a record-tying nine times and didn’t throw a touchdown. Still, this team was able to rise to the occasion and make big plays when it mattered most — which may be the most important indicator that the Bengals are a legitimate contender.
Following the victory, Burrow was directly asked if this team was “Cinderella.” The second-year signal-caller quickly shut that down.
“No, I’m tired of the underdog narrative,” Burrow said. “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, like I said, a really good team with really good players and coaches and we’re coming for it all.”
In fact, Burrow actually talked to his team about this on Friday night. Usually head coach Zac Taylor specifically addresses the team the night before games, but he wanted the captains to do so this time around. Burrow used that opportunity to remind his teammates they belong in the situation they find themselves in.
“We’re a really good team that has worked really hard to get to this point and we make plays, “Burrow said. “Whether it’s defense, offense or special teams, we go out there and get it done.”
Cincinnati has undeniable talent on offense with a legitimate three-headed monster at wide receiver led by rookie Ja’Marr Chase, and a versatile running back in Joe Mixon. This unit dropped 41 points on the Baltimore Ravens in Week 16, and then outscored the Kansas City Chiefs, 34-31, to wrap up the AFC North for the first time since 2015. The Bengals defense is playing some of its best football of the year as well, as they held the Las Vegas Raiders to 19 points last week, and the Titans to just 16 points on Saturday.
Some teams embrace the underdog label in the postseason, but not the Bengals. They’d rather be seen as a team with the wherewithal to be a constant presence in the playoffs moving forward, year in, year out.