NFL

Rookie McPherson's late game-winner sends Bengals into AFC Championship Game

By Sports Desk January 22, 2022

Rookie Evan McPherson's last-gasp 52-yard field goal has sent the Cincinnati Bengals into the AFC Championship Game for the first time since 1988 with a 19-16 win over the Tennessee Titans on Saturday.

The Bengals, who claimed their first playoffs win in 31 years last weekend against the Las Vegas Raiders, will take on either the Buffalo Bills or Kansas City Chiefs on the road. Saturday's victory was Cincinnati's first-ever postseason road win and qualifies the franchise for the AFC Championship Game for the third time.

Cincinnati regained possession with 20 seconds left, setting up McPherson's late field-goal chance, when Titans quarterback Ryan Tannehill's pass was intercepted by Logan Wilson. Tannehill completed 15 of 24 attempts for 220 yards with one touchdown and three interceptions.

Bengals QB Joe Burrow was sacked nine times but kept his side moving, making 28 of 37 attempts for 348 yards with one interception.

Rookie receiver Ja'Marr Chase was key for the Bengals too, making 109 yards from five receptions while Tee Higgins had seven receptions for 96 yards. Joe Mixon rushed Cincinnati's only touchdown after a slick cutback to open up a 16-6 third-quarter lead.

Titans running back Derrick Henry, on his return from a foot injury, scored the only touchdown of the first half in trademark style, finishing with 20 carries for 62 yards for the game.

AJ Brown made some major plays with five receptions for 142 yards for the Titans but none were bigger than his TD from Tannehill's long pass late in the third quarter which forced a tie game.

Scores remained locked until Tannehill's late interception pass, before Burrow drove the Bengals within field-goal range and University of Florida rookie McPherson made himself the hero, completing a perfect four from four for the game.

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  • Real Madrid: Ancelotti tempting fate by not signing a Benzema backup as he eyes elusive third season Real Madrid: Ancelotti tempting fate by not signing a Benzema backup as he eyes elusive third season

    Carlo Ancelotti's return to Real Madrid last year came as something of a surprise to most.

    While the job he'd done at Everton was generally seen as fine, there was nothing about his time at Goodison Park that suggested the Italian would be back at the top of the game in his next job.

    His appointment at the Santiago Bernabeu could've almost been interpreted as a pointed dig at Clasico rivals Barcelona, where managerial hirings tend to be based around 'philosophy' – few could say that about Ancelotti, a coach arguably regarded more for his motivational skills, tactical flexibility and winning than for sticking to one defined brand of football.

    Regardless of how surprising Ancelotti's return was, he certainly got the job done. Madrid looked certainties for the title virtually all season and pulled off great escape after great escape to eventually win the Champions League, traversing one of the toughest routes to European Cup glory ever seen.

    But let's not forget, Ancelotti's won the Champions League with Madrid before. Last time, in 2014, he lasted only another year and a day before he was discarded.

    From Milan dynasty to short-term guarantee

    Perhaps it shouldn't be a shock, given many of the clubs he's coached have been among the biggest – and that usually means impatient by extension – teams in Europe, but Ancelotti hasn't been in charge of a single club for more than two consecutive full seasons since leaving Milan in May 2009.

    Granted, his spells at Paris Saint-Germain and Everton ended essentially because Madrid came calling, so who's to say how long he'd have been in charge. But clearly there has been a pattern in his working life since Milan.

    Ancelotti will be acutely aware of the expectations upon him at Madrid as he's lived through them before and paid the price for failing to achieve his targets.

    But you have to wonder if anything will be different this time around.

    Ancelotti's dismissal in 2015 came down to the fact Madrid didn't win a (major) trophy in the 2014-15 season. Florentino Perez's decision at the time wasn't universally popular, though no one would've been surprised.

    In the culture created by Perez at the club, a lack of success simply equates to failure, and clearly even the good will attained by winning La Decima – Madrid's 10th European crown – only lasts you so long.

    Perez's statement to the media even seemed to admit there being a degree of not knowing what else to do, as he said: "It was a very difficult decision to make; the demands at this club are the utmost because Madrid always wants to win silverware.

    "The affection that the players and the fans have for Carlo is the same as the affection I myself have for him. What did Ancelotti do wrong? I don't know. The demands here at Real Madrid are very high."

    Essentially, since his Milan days, Ancelotti has been brought in by teams to achieve success quickly and, for the most part, he's done that almost everywhere he's been – but long-term success in one place has eluded him.

    Presumably then, Ancelotti will have to again win at least one of LaLiga or the Champions League to stick around for a third season. That stands to reason at Real Madrid, and there's no reason they would be considered incapable on either front, but expecting everything to fall into place like last season is asking for trouble.

    Tempting fate?

    Who's to say Madrid won't cruise to the title again with Karim Benzema conquering every team in his path? It's entirely possible.

    The key differences this time around are the fact Madrid are heading into the season without a defined back-up striker for Benzema, and Barcelona have strengthened significantly.

    Firstly on Barca, if we assume they are able to register all of their new signings in time for the season's start, they'll have bolstered a team that finished the 2021-22 season very well. In fact, since the start of 2022, their 45 points was more than any other LaLiga team.

    Granted, Madrid played one game less (19), but if they had contested a 20th match and won it, they'd still have been two points shy of Barca.

    The change inspired by Xavi cannot be overstated and, as much of a mess as the club is off the pitch, there's every reason to expect them to be a force on it this season.

    For Madrid and Ancelotti, again their hopes will be pinned on Benzema. Of course, on the face of it that's not an issue. He's scored at least 21 league goals in each of the past four seasons and never made fewer than 27 top-flight appearances for Los Blancos.

    As a difference-maker and consistent presence, he's their Mr Reliable. But what if he does pick up a major injury: who will Madrid rely on to fill the Benzema void?

    Vinicius Junior enjoyed a remarkable season but wouldn't be suited to the Benzema role, stylistically or as a leader. Again, when Eden Hazard is fit, he is not a central striker, while Mariano Diaz has started just 11 league games in four seasons.

    Madrid's decision to get rid of Luka Jovic was probably the right one given how underwhelming the Serbian had been, and there's no guarantee anyone else brought in as a backup would've been more effective.

    But it does seem an unnecessary risk for a club like Madrid to go into a season without a second striker – or without a second striker who's got a better track record than Diaz. That's the decision Florentino Perez has reportedly made.

    Even if they were granted special dispensation to sign another LaLiga-based striker out of the transfer window, mid-season integration for that player would be tough in every way.

    Yes, yes, yes, it's all hypothetical and no one likes to think about the worst-case scenario, but surely it's better to plan for that possibility than to leave it to chance? Perhaps Ancelotti has a master backup plan hidden up his sleeve in the event of losing Benzema for a while – we'll only find out if it happens.

    But if it does and his answer is to rely on Diaz, there's little hope of Ancelotti reaching that elusive third season.

  • Tua Tagovailoa shakes off Miami Dolphins’ interest in Tom Brady Tua Tagovailoa shakes off Miami Dolphins’ interest in Tom Brady

    Tua Tagovailoa and Tom Brady shared the same field on Wednesday for the first time since the NFL punished the Dolphins for tampering with the seven-time Super Bowl-winning quarterback.

    They are bound to be linked for much longer.

    Tagovailoa was asked for his reaction to the Dolphins’ interest in Brady that resulted in Miami being disciplined by the league.

    "Yeah, I mean, I’m still here," he said. "To me, that’s all noise at this point."

    Wednesday was the first of two joint practices between the Dolphins and Buccaneers before the teams meet in the preseason opener Saturday at Raymond James Stadium.

    Just over a week ago, the NFL suspended Dolphins owner Stephen Ross and fined him $1.5 million for tampering with Brady and former New Orleans Saints coach Sean Payton following a six-month investigation stemming from Brian Flores' racial discrimination lawsuit against the league.

    The investigation found that the Dolphins had impermissible contact with Brady and his and Payton’s agent, Don Yee. The Dolphins will forfeit a first-round selection in the 2023 NFL draft and a third-round selection in the 2024 draft. Ross is suspended through Oct. 17.

    Tagovailoa was more succinct on Wednesday after giving a longer reaction in last week's media session about his team’s interest in another quarterback.

    "I would say the only thing that gets frustrating is if you hear it every day or if you see it every day," he said.

    "For me, I eliminate all of that. Don’t hear it. Don’t see it. I go home, go to my family, study, wake up the next day, come back and enjoy football.

    "I hear everything obviously from the media and then when [the communications staff] preps me for whatever you guys are going to say, then I’m like 'Ah, I’ve got to answer this. All right, let me figure out something politically correct to say'."

    Brady has yet to speak on the Dolphins’ interest and punishment and did not speak to reporters on Wednesday.

    First-year Dolphins coach Mike McDaniel did speak to the media on the subject.

    "For me, nothing happened," he said. "Everyone else is the one making it awkward. It doesn’t occupy a single iota of space with anybody.

    "It’s hard enough to be good in this league. As the Miami Dolphins, all of our energy is very coordinated and only has to do with us getting better and everything else would be an opportunity cost that we’re not willing to expend."

    The Dolphins and Buccaneers are not scheduled to play in the regular season.

  • Casemiro cites Madrid team-mates Modric and Kroos as world's best midfielders Casemiro cites Madrid team-mates Modric and Kroos as world's best midfielders

    Casemiro has crowned team-mates Luka Modric and Toni Kroos as "possibly the best two midfielders in the world".

    Madrid ran out 2-0 winners over Eintracht Frankfurt in the Super Cup on Wednesday, thanks to goals from David Alaba and Karim Benzema.

    Carlo Ancelotti stuck with the same line-up that had started against Liverpool in May's Champions League final, and midfield trio Casemiro, Kroos and Modric turned in a supreme display.

    Modric, the 2018 Ballon d'Or winner, completed 53 of 57 passes (93 per cent) and laid on two chances for team-mates in Helsinki, while Kroos enjoyed 120 touches, completed 97 passes and gained possession nine times.

    Only UEFA's man of the match Casemiro (10) bettered that latter figure, and the Brazil international also went close to a spectacular goal when he rattled the crossbar from long range on his weaker left foot – that shot was teed up by Modric.

    The trio's performances led Carlo Ancelotti to highlight Madrid's experience as a crucial factor in their victory after full-time, and Casemiro knows he is playing with two of the best in the business.

    "We know each other just by looking at one another," he told a post-match news conference.

    "I've got an easy job, we're talking about Kroos and Modric who are possibly the best two midfielders in the world. 

    "There are things in football that cannot be explained, some things just happen in football. I hope we'll continue to be together for a long time to come."

     

    While Madrid's thrilling 2021-22 Champions League triumph saw several energetic cameos by young midfielder Eduardo Camavinga, the 14-time European champions have further bolstered that area of the pitch with the recent acquisition of Aurelien Tchouameni from Monaco.

    Casemiro welcomes the competition provided by the 22-year-old's arrival and has high hopes for the France international.

    "It hasn't annoyed me, everyone knows about my character and loyalty for this club, I'll be working in the same way," Casemiro said.

    "You only see the 90 minutes but I'll keep making sacrifices, including on the pitch and in training.

    "I think Tchouameni is a top player, this club speaks for itself – everybody gives their all. All I can say to him is keep doing what he's doing, keep showing in training and do it out on the pitch."

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