fb-pixelThe Bengals’ unfortunate Joseph Ossai pushed himself into a dubious spotlight - The Boston Globe Skip to main content
dan shaughnessy

The Bengals’ unfortunate Joseph Ossai pushed himself into a dubious spotlight

Cincinnati's Joseph Ossai took down Patrick Mahomes cleanly on this fourth-quarter play, but it is a later hit that will be remembered.Kevin C. Cox/Getty

Some people see GOATS and think of Tom Brady, Michael Jordan, and Bobby Orr.

I think of Bill Buckner, Scott Norwood, Grady Little, Pete Carroll, and now Joseph Ossai.

Super Bowl LVII will feature Patrick Mahomes and the Kansas City Chiefs against the indomitable Philadelphia Eagles, who have shredded everything in their path on the way to Glendale, Ariz.

The Eagles got there with great help from the football gods, who determined that every man playing quarterback for San Francisco would get hurt this year. The Chiefs, meanwhile, were gifted when a humble, 22-year-old kid from Nigeria was flagged for a personal foul when he pushed an already-out-of-bounds Mahomes to the ground in a 20-20 game with eight seconds left in regulation.



Chiefs-Bengals was an instant classic, worthy of overtime with those new overtime rules. And it looked like we were surely headed there when Mahomes ran out of bounds on the Bengal 42-yard-line. With no timeouts left, KC was facing either a risky play that might expire the clock or a 60-yard field goal attempt in bad weather.

But then … Ossai pushed Mahomes to the ground and both went down in a wild tumble. A yellow penalty flag landed near their feet.

The needless violence tacked 15 yards on the play, taking the Chiefs to the 27. And just like that, a Hail Mary kick became a makeable 45-yarder.

Kicker Harrison Butker lined up, split the uprights with little to spare, and sent the Chiefs to the Super Bowl.

While poor Joseph Ossai sobbed on the sideline.

It’s impossible not to feel badly for this young player. And he’s fortunate he plays in a market that’s more forgiving than Boston, New York, or Philadelphia.

I have always held that Carroll would not have been able to come back and coach a New England team if he had made the call for the Patriots that he made to lose Super Bowl XLIX in 2015 — a slant pass in traffic instead of handing off to Marshawn Lynch. Lucky for Pete, he coaches in fan-friendly Seattle.


Folks in Cincinnati are pretty chill, and Ossai’s teammates rallied around him Sunday, but these things don’t go away easily. Unfortunate truths emerge in this cell phone camera age, and somebody captured the rage of Bengals linebacker Germaine Pratt on his way to the locker room after Sunday’s heartbreaking loss.

“It’s the [expletive] last series!” Pratt yells as he approaches the doorway. “What the [expletive]? Why the [expletive] did you touch the quarterback?”

Pratt later owned his words via Instagram, but chalked it up to the heat of the moment, writing, “I have real feelings sometimes they are raw. If you love something as much as I do sometimes things will be said in the heated [sic] of the moment. But I know what type of teammate I am.”

A soft-spoken and contrite Ossai made no attempt to dodge questions after the game, while defensive tackle B.J. Hill stood by him for support.

“I’ve got to learn from experience,” said the young player from the University of Texas. “I’ve got to know not to get close to that quarterback when he’s close to that sideline if it’s anything that could possibly cause a penalty.

“In a dire situation like that, I’ve got to do better. I was just in full chase mode and I was trying to push him to maybe get him going backwards. I haven’t seen it yet, but I didn’t know how far out of bounds he was.”


When a reporter asked, “How hard is it going to be to maybe not put that weight on you as you go through this?” teammate Hill interrupted and said, “Ask a better question, bro. Come on.”

The classy Ossai answered.

“We’re one big family,” said Ossai, who injured his knee on the play. “It’s not fate. When the going gets tough, we don’t start pointing fingers. I’m just happy I’ve got this group of guys around me supporting me now, because this is hard.”

Over the course of the season, Ossai distinguished himself as an important part of the Cincinnati defense.Jeff Dean/Associated Press

It is hard. Ask Mike Torrez. Ask Bill Buckner. Ask Grady Little, who was fired after winning 95 games and taking his team to the seventh game of the ALCS.

Those guys eventually got some relief when the Sox finally won a World Series in 2004. Hopefully, that’s where Ossai is headed. Maybe he’ll make the big strip sack when Joe Burrow & Co. get to the Super Bowl next year. Or the year after.

Unfortunately, that doesn’t always happen. Look at how it’s gone for Scott Norwood in fan-friendly Buffalo. Norwood missed one kick 32 years ago, but “Wide Right” lives on because the Bills have never won a Super Bowl.

Just like the (gulp) Cincinnati Bengals.

Dan Shaughnessy is a Globe columnist. He can be reached at daniel.shaughnessy@globe.com. Follow him @dan_shaughnessy.