Evan McPherson remains perfect.
His blemish-free streak began with six successful kicks in a Week 17 win over the Chiefs and continued through the AFC Championship Game, in which McPherson made all four of his field goals and his lone point-after attempt to defeat Kansas City a second time. The last kick was the sweetest, sending the Bengals to a once-improbable conference title.
Unlike his triumphant kick in the Divisional Round, McPherson didn't call his shot. As it turned out, the kicker nicknamed "Shooter" didn't need to.
"I didn't say anything this week, but yeah, it was going through my head that there's probably a good chance that we're going to the Super Bowl," McPherson said after Cincinnati's 27-24 overtime win over Kansas City. "It's so surreal that this game came down to a field goal. Obviously, it wasn't just me. Our defense put us in a great position with the interception, and then our offense, I obviously had a lot of confidence in them that they were going to drive it down. I thought we were going to score. That's what I was telling a lot of people. This game's gonna end on a touchdown, not a field goal."
Cincinnati was certainly moving as if it would finish off its stunning win over the two-time defending AFC champion Chiefs with a trip to the end zone, but once the Bengals reached the doorstep of the painted area, they played it safe, lining up for a third-down attempt for McPherson. The rookie drilled the 31-yarder to lift the Bengals to an AFC crown.
McPherson hasn't missed an attempt since Week 16, and Cincinnati again needed every one of his kicks to win another playoff game. McPherson was a perfect 4-for-4 on field goal attempts, converting from as far as 52 yards out and making three tries from within 35 yards. The moment might have been too big for other rookie kickers, but if McPherson has proven anything in his first NFL season, it's that he's not afraid of a high-pressure situation.
Cincinnati as a team isn't, either. A second-half team for much of 2021, the comeback kids fought back from an 18-point deficit to tie the game at 21, then leaned on McPherson to take a 24-21 lead, and later, a 27-24 advantage to win it.
"Nobody blinked an eye," McPherson said of the early 21-3 deficit. "I think we all thought we were definitely gonna come back and find a way to win. That's what we've done all throughout the whole year. I think a lot of people probably wrote us off at halftime. We're a confident bunch of guys, and we knew there was no way we were going to go out kind of like this. We knew 100 percent we were going to come back and give 'em a run for their money."
Cincinnati didn't look like it had more than a puncher's chance in the first half, allowing the Chiefs to walk all over its defense for three straight touchdown drives. But much like their Week 17 meeting, the Bengals bounced back with enough time to mount a comeback, cutting the deficit to 21-10 and earning a crucial goal-line stand to end the half and keep the game within 11 points.
Those who had -- as McPherson said -- written off the Bengals ended up eating their words. The Bengals were more than happy to be the ones to make them do so.
"This whole week's been awesome. It's been surreal, all the attention that me and the team's gotten," McPherson said. "I think it's been coming this whole year. We've kind of pushed that underdog narrative to the side, shown everybody that the Bengals are here to stay. We mean business. Whoever you put out there on the field with us, we're gonna compete and do the best we can.
"That goal-line stand going into half, I think I said coming into the locker room after that stop, I'm like, 'That probably won us the game right there.' That definitely did. Our defense definitely won us the game right there."
With the start of the second half, it was time for Joe Burrow and Co. to get to work, while Cincinnati's defense turned things around, limiting Patrick Mahomes to 55 passing yards in the final two quarters and the extra period. Their final defensive stand of regulation preserved the Bengals' chances, and an interception in OT cleared the runway for takeoff to Los Angeles.
By the time McPherson returned to the field, all that was left was for the former fifth-round pick was to do what he does best: bang it through the uprights.
As he has with every attempt since the Bengals' first upset of the Chiefs, McPherson followed through, pushing his total made playoff field-goal attempts to 12, the most without a miss in a single postseason in NFL history. His Bengals will follow him to Super Bowl LVI.