The Cincinnati Bengals and San Francisco 49ers both claimed shock victories last Saturday thanks to field goals as time ran out, despite both getting into their NFL Division Round clash in the playoffs as underdogs.
Rookie kicker Evan McPherson drilled a 52-yard field goal to give the Bengals a 19-16 victory over No. 1 seed Tennessee Titans and advance to their first AFC Championship game since the 1988 season.
Later, at a snow-covered Lambeau Field, Robbie Gould kicked a 45-yard field goal to claim a stunning comeback 13-10 victory over the Green Bay Packers to advance them to the NFC Championship match.
The two teams are now a win away from the Super Bowl LVI. The Bengals visit the Kansas City Chiefs while the 49ers take on the Los Angeles Rams on Sunday.
For the Bengals, the 2021 season has been a time of growth on the biggest stage.
A franchise that has had so little success – last weekend’s win over the Las Vegas Raiders was their first playoff win in 31 years – this is a dream race.
Behind second-year quarterback Joe Burrow, rookie wide receiver Ja’Marr Chase and rookie kicker McPherson, Cincinnati has developed one of the most potent attacks in the league.
After the Titans victory, the Bengals players were full of praise for their kicker nerves, with Burrow saying he had “ice in his veins.”
Burrow told reporters that before he went out for the battle-winning kick, McPherson said to him, “Well, it looks like we’re going to the AFC Championship Game.”
Moments later, he was swarmed by his teammates after fulfilling his promise.
With temperatures dropping below freezing and snow falling, traveling from California to Wisconsin to meet Green Bay can be a daunting task.
And the Packers set the tone early on at home, an impressive opening drive that ended in an AJ Dillion touchdown to give them a lead.
While the 49ers offensive struggled, so did the Packers after that, with a blocked field goal their only second real chance to score in the first half.
San Francisco got their own field goal shortly after before the Packers responded with their own in the second half.
But it was a mistake on special teams that changed the momentum in favor of the 49ers, a blocked punt that allowed Talanoa Hufanga to pick up the loose ball and run in a touchdown with less than five minutes left.
After stopping Green Bay’s offense again, the 49ers were able to get in position to allow Gould to kick the battle-winning kick and advance to their second NFC Championship match in three years.
While it was cheering for the 49ers, the defeat begins a low season of questions about the future of superstar quarterback Aaron Rodgers at Green Bay.
The 37-year-old, the NFL’s reigning MVP, is expected to win the award this season, but said he was a “little numb” after the defeat.
Read more about Bengals and Niners’ underdog victories here.