The Bengals and Zac Taylor knew they didn’t need to get too close to be in field goal range for Evan McPherson.
After intercepting Titans quarterback Ryan Tannehill with 20 seconds left in the fourth quarter, they needed just one play to go from their 47-yard line to the Titans’ 34: a 19-yard pass from Joe Burrow to Ja’Marr Chase. Cincinnati then rushed twice to wind the clock down before taking a timeout to set up McPherson for the game-winner.
As he has been all season, McPherson was on the money, drilling the game-winning 52-yard kick to walk off the Titans 19-16 and advance Cincinnati to the AFC championship game.
“He was talking to [backup quarterback Brandon Allen] as he was going out to kick. He gave a little warmup swing and he said, ‘Ah, looks like we’re going to the AFC championship,’ right before he went out there and kicked it,” Burrow said after the game.
Taylor said the team felt as if it only needed to get to the Titans’ 40, meaning he had confidence in his rookie kicker from at least 58 yards out.
“Ice in his veins. There’s not much to be said. He’s as cool as it gets,” Taylor said. “You’ve got confidence that he’s going to nail it every single time he steps up there. He definitely could have gone from longer out than what he kicked it from. We felt confidence, really, beyond the 40-yard line there. So he just steps up. The moment’s never too big for him. We’re happy to have him.”
When was Evan McPherson drafted?
Kickers don’t often get drafted. Plenty of NFL kickers have been undrafted free agents before they make their mark in the league.
Cincinnati felt confident enough in McPherson’s ability to use one of its picks in the 2021 NFL Draft on him. He was taken in the fifth round, 149th overall, making him the 66th-highest kicker drafted in NFL history, according to Stathead. He was the only kicker selected in 2021 and the 233rd kicker drafted overall in NFL history.
“He came in and we knew exactly what we had in camp,” Burrow told CBS Sports’ Evan Washburn. “You can tell how a kicker is when he walks in the building and how he walks in the building and how he walks and how he talks with people. That guy’s unbelievable.”
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McPherson did plenty in college to deserve a draft pick. In three years at Florida, he made 149 of 150 extra-point attempts and 51 of 60 field goal tries. He set the SEC record with an .850 career field goal percentage.
Even before college, he was a standout. He was a three-star recruit in 247Sports’ Composite rankings, coming in at No. 1,486 nationally and as the No. 1 kicker in the 2018 class.
Evan McPherson’s regular-season success
McPherson stepped right onto the field and proved that he would be a difference-maker with his leg.
In his first game, he kicked a walk-off 34-yard field goal in overtime to beat the Vikings. Three weeks later, he walked off the Jaguars in a “Thursday Night Football” matchup.
Neither kick finished the regular season as his biggest. In Week 17, McPherson drilled a 20-yarder against the Chiefs as time expired to clinch Cincinnati’s first AFC North title since 2015.
McPherson finished the season having made 46 of 48 PAT tries and 28 of 33 field goal kicks. He came one 50-yard field goal shy of tying Blair Walsh’s NFL rookie record for field goals from 50-plus yards McPherson made 9 of 11 attempts. His nine successful kicks from 50-plus were the most among all NFL kickers in 2021.
Only four rookie kickers in NFL history have made four field goals in a single game, per Stathead. McPherson is now the only kicker to have done it twice, making him the only kicker — let alone rookie — to have two games in the same postseason with at least four made kicks.
McPherson drilled four field goals in a 26-19 wild-card round victory against the Raiders that advanced Cincinnati to the divisional round. He accounted for 12 of the Bengals’ 19 points Saturday with four more vs. the Titans.
The last time a rookie kicker had four successful tries and booted a game-winner in the same game was when the Steelers’ Chris Boswell sent a 35-yard try through the uprights against the Bengals in 2016 to stun Cincinnati and end what had, before this season, been the team’s most recent trip to the playoffs.
McPherson said after that game it is “every kicker’s dream” to have the game come down to his leg.
“This is my job. This is what I do for a living. It’s my job to stay cool, calm and collected in moments like those and I’m just so happy that my team put me in the position to succeed and give me the opportunity to win the game,” he said.
McPherson said that if he feels he has hit a kick well, he turns to punter Kevin Huber and doesn’t watch the ball go through. McPherson said he knew he hit his 52-yarder well.
“We’ve seen that be a bad thing, but this time, it was a good thing. And I looked at [Huber], he’s like, ‘You did it,'” McPherson said. “And pretty much all that was going through my mind was we get one more game. We’re guaranteed one more game. We get another chance to go out and win another game and we’re one step closer to our goal.”