NFL

Burrow tired of 'underdog narrative' as Bengals topple Titans

By Sports Desk January 23, 2022

Joe Burrow is "tired of the underdog narrative" and said the Cincinnati Bengals are "here to make noise" after toppling the Tennessee Titans to make the AFC Championship game.

Rookie Evan McPherson converted a last-gasp 52-yard field goal to send the Bengals to their first Championship Game since 1988 in a 19-16 win over the top-seeded Titans, while it represented their first ever postseason road win.

The question of "Why not us?" has been a common theme of the Bengals' postseason run but for quarterback Burrow that is a motto that is no longer relevant.

"I'm tired of the underdog narrative," said. "We're a really, really good team. We're here to make noise."

Burrow added that McPherson called nailing his game-winning kick.

"He [McPherson] gave a little warm-up swing and he said, 'Ahh, looks like we're going to the AFC Championship,'" Burrow said.

The Bengals managed to triumph despite Burrow being sacked nine times, tying the most in a playoff game in the Super Bowl era.

But they did also manage three interceptions, with Logan Wilson getting in the way of a Ryan Tannehill pass with 20 seconds left that ultimately set up McPherson's kick.

And Cincinnati coach Zac Taylor said there is no limit for his team.

"This is the expectation for this team," Taylor said. 

"This is not too big for these guys. I know we haven't been here before, but it sure feels like we have. You just see the attitude of this team and the confidence of this team that we're going to find a way to win."

Shortly before coming in for his news conference, defensive tackle D.J. Reader was asked what the Bengals' new team motto is if not "Why not us?"

He replied "it is us" before saying the team was motivated by what he felt has been disrespect from pundits this season.

Reader said: "As a journalist, do you want somebody to doubt your ability to do your job? No. It's disrespectful. 

"You gotta go out there and get it and take it. You gotta earn respect, though."

"We're confident in us. We feel like we [are] them. We're the people. We're going out there every game, feeling like we're confident, we're the ones that need to get beat."

Tannehill had an indifferent night for the Titans, completing 15 of 24 attempted passes for 220 yards with one touchdown and three interceptions.

It means the Titans suffered a third straight loss on home turf as the number one seed in the AFC, while their last home postseason victory came back in 2003.

Titans coach Mike Vrabel said: "I don't think Ryan or myself or anybody did enough to win the game. That's how it goes. 

"It's never going to be about one person, not as long as I'm head coach, which will be a while."

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  • From Manchester to Seville: Rangers' 14-year journey back to a European final From Manchester to Seville: Rangers' 14-year journey back to a European final

    None of us truly know where this life is going to take us, and what highs and lows we will experience along the way.

    That is especially true for anyone associated with Rangers Football Club if you had told them after the 2008 UEFA Cup final they would next reach another European showpiece 14 years later.

    As the Gers players trudged off the field at the Etihad Stadium having been thoroughly outplayed by Zenit, the disappointment was tempered with a belief that at least this was a team that had made a final and may have been on the way to more.

    It took nearly a decade and a half, but on Wednesday they find themselves heading to Spain to line up opposite Eintracht Frankfurt to contest the Europa League final.

    Here, Stats Perform takes a look at how Rangers got from Manchester to Seville, with one of the bumpiest rides football has ever seen.

    A night to forget in Manchester

    Under the guidance of legendary manager Walter Smith in 2007-08, Rangers were looking to overthrow rivals Celtic in the league, having been bested by the Hoops the previous two seasons.

    It was no good as Celtic made it a third Scottish title in a row, beating Rangers by three points, but there was a silver lining for the blue half of Glasgow.

    Having finished third in their Champions League group behind Barcelona and Lyon, Rangers found themselves in the UEFA Cup.

    They overcame Panathinaikos on away goals first up, before beating Werder Bremen 2-0 at Ibrox in first leg of the last 16, one of only two wins they actually managed in their entire run.

    After getting past Sporting Lisbon in the quarter-finals, a penalty shoot-out success after 210 goalless minutes against Fiorentina sent Smith's side to the final.

    However, it was a step too far for Rangers as they succumbed to defeat in Manchester, losing 2-0 to a Zenit team containing Andrei Arshavin and Anatoliy Tymoshchuk, and managed by former Gers boss Dick Advocaat.

    It was a blow but Rangers went on to win the next three Scottish titles until things began to unravel in the 2011-12 season, with poor form and a points deduction for financial issues seeing Celtic take the crown back.

    That was far from the worst thing that happened to the club that year, though.

    The fall and rise of Rangers

    The financial issues were worse than first feared. Owing significant money to HM Revenue and Customs, The Rangers Football Club plc entered liquidation on 31 October 2012.

    The club was forced to reform under the new ownership of Charles Green and a vote from other member clubs of the Scottish Football League meant Rangers were forced to begin again at the bottom, in the third division.

    Although they had to sell most of their players to raise money and because few fancied playing in Scotland's fourth tier, Rangers still boasted by far the strongest squad in the third division, while manager Ally McCoist had also stayed on to try and take them back to the top.

    They unsurprisingly won the league by 24 points in their first season, and had even fewer problems in the second division, now called League One, going unbeaten and drawing only three of their 36 games, securing 102 points and promotion at the first time of asking again.

    The Championship was a different prospect altogether, though, as Rangers found themselves in with both Hibernian and Hearts. The two Edinburgh clubs ultimately finished above them, though Rangers beat both Queen of the South and Hibs in the playoffs, before losing to Motherwell in the final, meaning they would have to try again.

    Stuart McCall was in charge by that point, and the former Scotland midfielder was able to get the job done in 2015-16, finishing 11 points ahead of second-placed Falkirk.

    For the first time in four years, Rangers were back at the top table in Scotland, but this was always going to be the biggest leap. Their first Old Firm derby back in the top flight ended in a 5-1 drubbing by Celtic.

    During the winter break, Rangers had played RB Leipzig in a friendly, losing 4-0 to the German side, which was perhaps a prophetic sign of how far they would need to rise to get back to where they felt they belonged.

    Rangers finished third in their first two seasons back in the Premiership and decided to bring in a big name to try and force their way into the title picture. Steven Gerrard.

    The former Liverpool star was new to management but was able to secure second place in 2018-19, though also back in Europe, Rangers were unable to get out of the Europa League group stage.

    They made it to the round of 16 the following season before going out to Bayer Leverkusen, and despite putting up more of a fight in the league, a wobble in the second half of the campaign saw Celtic claim their ninth consecutive title.

    Rangers fans everywhere wanted Gerrard to do everything he could to stop their great rivals from making it 10 in a row, and despite none of them being able to witness it thanks to the coronavirus pandemic, Gerrard and his players did just that.

    They had done it emphatically as well, going undefeated and collecting 102 points to win the Premiership, averaging 2.42 goals for per game, and just 0.34 goals against across their 38 league matches.

    Full circle

    It felt like Rangers were ready to take the next step, and many assumed that was by getting back into the group stage of the Champions League in 2021-22.

    However, those plans were scuppered as they were beaten home and away by Malmo in qualifying, so back to the Europa League it was.

    After losing their first two group games to Lyon and Sparta Prague without scoring, few will have had any hopes about making it to the knockout round playoffs, let alone where they ended up.

    Home wins against Brondby and Sparta as well as away draws with Brondby and Lyon saw them advance a point ahead of the Czech side, though they were given a daunting tie against Borussia Dortmund.

    On top of that, Gerrard had left for Aston Villa in November, with former player Giovanni van Bronckhorst taking over.

    A stunning effort in Signal Iduna Park saw them win 4-2, before completing the job with a 2-2 draw back at Ibrox.

    Hard-fought aggregate victories against Red Star Belgrade and Braga sent them to the semi-finals, and a date with more Bundesliga opposition, the very same they had lost convincingly to in that 2017 friendly.

    Leipzig will have been wondering how they only won 1-0 at Red Bull Arena in the first leg, but Ibrox was a different matter, with a raucous crowd again cheering Rangers to a famous 3-1 win, and their first European final since 2008.

    The second leg came nine years and one day after beating Berwick Rangers 1-0 at Ibrox in their final game in the third division.

    It has been quite a ride since Manchester in 2008. Whatever happens in Seville, it is not always about the destination. It's about the journey.

  • Inzaghi says anything can happen after Inter take Scudetto race to the wire Inzaghi says anything can happen after Inter take Scudetto race to the wire

    Simone Inzaghi said Inter still believe they can retain the Scudetto after Lautaro Martinez's brace helped the Nerazzurri beat Cagliari and take the Serie A title race to the wire.

    After watching Milan beat Atalanta 2-0 at San Siro, the Nerazzurri had to win in Sardinia to avoid ceding their domestic crown to their rivals, but Martinez followed up Matteo Darmian's opener with a second-half double as Inter claimed a hard-fought 3-1 win to keep their hopes intact.

    Inter have now won seven of their past eight league games, but must beat Sampdoria and hope Sassuolo defeat the Rossoneri on the final day to win their 20th top-flight title.

    Inzaghi won one Serie A title during his playing career, scoring when Sven Goran Eriksson's Lazio claimed a dramatic title triumph on the final day of the 1999-00 season, beating Reggina 3-0 to overturn a two-point deficit to Juventus, who lost 1-0 to Perugia. 

    The former striker says that success is proof that anything can happen on the final day, and praised his team for putting in a composed performance just days after beating Juventus to win the Coppa Italia.

    "There is still one game missing, the team believes in it. We know that it has already happened, it has already happened to me," Inzaghi told his post-match press conference.

    "We believe in it until the end, and we will prepare it in the best possible way. Today we had a very good game two days after celebrating a trophy. In front of us we had a Cagliari team that was playing for survival and nothing was taken for granted, but I have a great team. 

    "I won a Scudetto against Lazio that I was two points behind [with one game left] and Juve lost to Perugia on the last day. In football you must never give up, we have always shown it."

    Inter's win means they have taken 39 points from their 19 away games in Serie A this season, the same amount they earned when winning the title under Antonio Conte last term.

    This represents the Nerazzurri's joint-third best away return in a single Serie A season (in the era of three points for a win), after they took 49 points in 2006-07 and 43 in 2019-20.

    Speaking to DAZN in the immediate aftermath of the win, Inzaghi had also heaped praise on two-goal hero Martinez after his match-winning performance.

    "I think he's got 25 goals this year. He has scored 13 goals in his last 13. The team put him in a position to score, he is a champion, he is very important for us and the team," he said.

    "He was good because even in the period in which he was unable to score, he worked hard, and now you can see the results."

    Martinez's tally of 25 goals in all competitions this season is at least eight better than any other Nerazzurri player (Edin Dzeko is second with 17), and the Argentine has become just the sixth Inter player to hit 20 goals in a Serie A season before turning 25 years of age, after Giuseppe Meazza, Sandro Mazzola, Antonio Angelillo, Ronaldo and Mauro Icardi. 

    While the striker acknowledged Inter had dropped points in games they should have won this season, he too holds out hope of a dramatic final-day triumph next Sunday.

    "We have lost points in matches in which we have done well, but in every competition we have played good football and done the work we wanted," the striker told DAZN.

    "The points lost are behind us, now there is one last home game with our fans, and we have to finish the championship in the best way."

  • 'Now things have to be corrected' – Xavi aiming for Barcelona resurgence 'Now things have to be corrected' – Xavi aiming for Barcelona resurgence

    Barcelona boss Xavi looked to remain positive following a goalless draw with Getafe, as the club approach the end of an empty-handed season.

    Barca lacked verve in the middle of the pitch without Pedri at the Coliseum Alfonso Perez, creating nothing of substance despite having 71.3 per cent possession for the match.

    The Blaugrana remain 12 points from Real Madrid, with both teams only managing a point this weekend, but the latter have the LaLiga title already wrapped up with a Champions League final awaiting.

    Xavi wants to remain upbeat coming into the off-season, however, believing Barcelona have salvaged a season that could have finished much worse. Since his appointment, Barcelona have surged from mid-table to second place, which is where they will finish.

    "As for the league, we were very far away, but the reality is that we have not been able to compete in other competitions. Now things have to be corrected, but it could have been worse," Xavi said.

    "If the economic situation is good, I'm optimistic, but we'll wait. We have to plan now and we don't have much time. We are already against the clock to plan and to decide things."

    Barca were knocked out of the Champions League's group stage and the Copa del Rey's last-16, opening with only four wins in their opening 11 league games before Xavi was announced to replace Ronald Koeman in November.

    A 4-0 win over title winners Madrid in March was soured by their eventual elimination at the hands of Eintracht Frankfurt in the quarter-final of the Europa League, confirming a trophy-less season.

    Post-match on Sunday, despite Getafe generating a greater xG (0.43-0.22) with 28.7 per cent possession, Xavi tried to bring the result into context.

    "The goal was to qualify for the Super Cup, to finish second, and we've covered that," he said. "Just as we were in November, December, January, we can be happy. Not so much with this game, we were too tidy in the first half, we need to generate more.

    "We have not achieved the main objective of winning titles, I would not have signed for it [when taking the job], but we have denied the blow of a disastrous season."

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