Bengals face Titans for first time since playoff upset

The Cincinnati Bengals have fond memories from the last time they played in Nashville, but the Tennessee Titans might be viewing their matchup Sunday at Nissan Stadium as a bit of a revenge game.

Tennessee was favored in their second-round playoff game on Jan. 22, but Logan Wilson spoiled the Titans’ day when he intercepted Ryan Tannehill at the Cincinnati 47-yard line with 20 seconds left and the game tied. Joe Burrow’s 19-yard pass to Ja’Marr Chase on the next play was enough to set up Evan McPherson’s game-winning 52-yard field goal as time expired, and Cincinnati went on to win the AFC championship the next week.

The Titans had come back from a 10-point third-quarter deficit and had forced a punt with a 10-yard sack on Burrow just before the two-minute warning to set up what could have been a game-winning drive for themselves.

“I don’t know how they’re going to feel about it,” Bengals coach Zac Taylor said when asked about preparing for what could be an emotional game for the Titans. “I just like where our team is at now and that the prep work that is going to go into the next six days, that your guys are going to be ready. We all understand how significant these games are in late November, December. I’m not going to speak for how they feel about it. I just know our guys will go in there and operate with a high degree of confidence.”

Tennessee (7-3) already is in a good position in terms of the playoff picture with seven games left. The Titans lead the AFC South and are currently the third seed in the AFC. Cincinnati (6-4) is second in the AFC North behind the Ravens (7-3) but moved into the seventh seed in the conference playoff picture with Sunday’s win over the Steelers.

Cincinnati still faces five of the six teams ahead of them, and the game in Nashville is a chance to help them get where they want to be at the end of the season in a position to make a playoff run.

“We can’t change what happened the first few weeks (opening with back-to-back losses),” left tackle Jonah Williams said. “All we did was get ourselves in a position to finish really strong. We play all the best teams in the AFC so if we want to climb the rankings of the AFC, it’s right in front of us. We just have to win these games with some really good teams, but that’s what we’re putting ourselves in position to do.”

Tennessee also opened the season 0-2 but has won seven of its last eight games with only an overtime loss to the top-ranked Chiefs in Week 9. The Titans bounced back with wins over Denver on Nov. 13 and Green Bay last Thursday, and they had an extra few days to recover and begin preparations for the Bengals with the mini bye.

Last year when they played the Bengals in the playoffs, Derrick Henry was just coming back from injury but he’s been healthy so far this season and leads the NFL with 1,010 yards rushing on 230 carries. He has 10 touchdowns, and Tannehill adds 10 passing touchdowns to go along with 1,685 yards over eight games. Tannehill had his best game of the season against Green Bay, completing 81.5 percent of his passes for 333 yards and two touchdowns. He’s thrown four interceptions this season.

Defensively, the Titans have another strong defensive line that has helped limit opponents to 82 yards rushing per game (second best run defense in the league) and that has contributed to the team’s 10th-ranked 30 sacks, including 7.0 sacks from Denico Autry and 6.5 sacks from Jeffery Simmons. They rank eighth in points allowed per game (18.5), but the pass defense has been a weakness with just two teams allowing more passing yards per game than their 266.

“We approach every game the same way, so I think that whether it’s a revenge game or not, we’re gonna approach it the same way,” Williams said. “We know that Tennessee’s a good team, they’re physical, and it’s gonna start up front with us. We have to win the line of scrimmage on both sides of the ball. Whether it’s revenge game or not, that’s what we have to do.”

Tennessee was without kicker Randy Bullock (calf), defensive end Bud Dupree (hip) and safety Amani Hooker (shoulder) against Green Bay, but coach Mike Vrabel seems to get the most out of whoever he’s got on the field.

“They’re physical, I think that’s probably the No. 1 word (to describe Tennesse),” Taylor said. “Physical, tough team, and really situationally sound. They do a great job of handling all the situations, pulling points out of the game. That’s why probably in a lot of 50 -50 games they find a way to come out on top because they manage all those situations really well and their team understands it. And I just think he’s done a really good job with that whole organization.”

SUNDAY’S GAME

Bengals at Titans, 1 p.m., Ch. 7, 12; 700, 1530, 102.7, 104.7

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