They call Cincinnati Bengals quarterback Joe Burrow, “Joe Cool,” because of the way he handles himself under pressure. But even Burrow has to take a backseat when it comes to nerves of steel on his own team.
The second-year quarterback has nothing on the rookie kicker.
Evan McPherson introduced himself to the world last Saturday when he kicked the Bengals into the AFC Championship Game with a heart-stopping 52-yard field goal with no time left to beat the AFC’s top-seeded Tennessee Titans, 19-16.
It was McPherson’s fourth field goal in four tries on the afternoon and second from beyond 50 yards, and the 22-year-old from Fort Payne, AL, put a little extra English on the game-winner with a bold prediction that has already made him one of the top clutch kickers in the game.
Now, the Bengals are going to need every point they can get Sunday to keep up with the high-flying Kansas City Chiefs offense, which has scored 42 points in each of its first two NFL Playoff games to reach the precipice of a third straight Super Bowl.
It could well fall again to McPherson to make sure the Bengals don’t leave any scoring chances on the field.
McPherson is the can’t-miss kid after the Bengals’ first two playoff games
The last time the Bengals won a playoff game before this season, McPherson was almost a full decade away from being born. Now the rookie kicker is one of the biggest reasons why the Bengals are one game away from their third Super Bowl appearance and first since 1989.
In two games so far, against the Las Vegas Raiders in the Wild Card round and the Titans in the Divisional Round, McPherson is 8-for-8 on field-goal attempts and 3-for-3 on extra points, accounting for 27 of the Bengals’ 45 total playoff points.
McPherson added a 45-yard field goal to his two 50-plus conversions last Saturday and had another 40-plus kick as part of his quartet of field goals in the 26-19 victory over the Raiders.
With his eight field goals, McPherson is one kick away from moving into a tie for third place all-time for field goals in a single postseason. Two field goals tie him with Brandon McManus, who converted 10 kicks for the Denver Broncos in their Super Bowl-winning season in 2015.
The all-time record belongs to the legendary Adam Vinatieri, who made 14 for the Indianapolis Colts in their Super Bowl-winning season in 2006.
But with one more kick, the 22-year-old McPherson will have a record all to himself: No kicker in NFL history younger than 24 has made nine field goals in a single postseason.
The former Gator is not lacking for confidence in his rookie NFL season
In those final, frantic moments last Saturday, when the Bengals were setting up the 52-yard field goal that would propel them to the AFC Championship Game, McPherson was packing his bags for Kansas City before anyone else on the team.
As he prepared to go out and kick the game-winner, McPherson almost casually told Bengals back-up quarterback Brandon Allen, “I guess we’re going to the AFC Championship.”
McPherson explained his bravado on the Pat McAfee Show this week.
“I see it as a challenge,” McPherson said. “If you say something like that, you better go out there and back it up.“
Then McPherson asked McAfee, the former Colts punter, to read the text on a signed football with Vinatieri’s accomplishments on it, specifically asking McAfee to read off the line about Vinatieri’s single-playoff record of 14 field goals.
Clearly, McPherson knows about that record and, more than halfway there, is intent on breaking it. The Bengals may need him to if they want to reach the Super Bowl.
The Bengals must score on as many possessions as possible Sunday to have a chance
On one level, if McPherson is out there kicking field goals on Sunday, the Bengals could already be in trouble, as the Chiefs are scoring touchdowns at an amazing clip, finding the end zone 11 times over their first two playoff games.
But if the Bengals defense, which managed to intercept Ryan Tannehill three times last week, can at least keep the Chiefs in the same neighborhood, it will be critical for McPherson to clean up any drives that stall in Chiefs territory but are too risky to try and convert the fourth down.
Even three points out of a drive is a critical gain, especially if the Chiefs offense finally stumbles. And, of course, if the Bengals can stay within a point or two and get the ball last, they know their kicker is more than confident enough to reward their faith.
Stats courtesy of Pro Football Reference