Of the NFL’s 32 teams, only one gets to raise the Lombardi Trophy at the end of the year, making heartbreak all but inevitable for the other 31. Even by NFL standards, Cincinnati’s loss to Kansas City in Sunday’s AFC Championship was an especially cruel way to go out, an excruciating loss that will resonate for months, if not years to come.
While it’s unfair to pin the result on a single player or performance, Bengals pass-rusher Joseph Ossai understandably felt responsible for his mental lapse, committing a costly personal foul that set up Harrison Butker’s go-ahead field goal with three seconds remaining. Ossai, who, until that moment, was having a superb game with six pressures and five combined tackles, was clearly devastated, openly weeping on the sideline as the Bengals watched their season come to a bitter and disappointing end.
Unfortunately for Ossai, there was nowhere to hide with CBS cameras zooming in to capture his anguish, tearfully lamenting a career-defining mistake witnessed by millions throughout the country. While Germaine Pratt was quick to throw Ossai under the bus, lashing out in a regrettable post-game tantrum, B.J. Hill was more supportive, never leaving his teammate’s side as reporters peppered him with questions, forcing the 22-year-old to relive the lowest moment of his NFL career.
“Come on. He played his butt off the whole game,” said Hill, shielding Ossai from some of the more prying questions posed by journalists seeking a juicy soundbite or viral headline. “Ask a different question.”
Twitter isn’t the most forgiving medium, with few if any barriers to prevent disgruntled fans from going after athletes, polluting their mentions with vicious attacks. And while Ossai was certainly subject to his fair share of online criticism, he also received plenty of support from fans and media pundits, with most acknowledging that games aren’t won or lost by one play.
Ossai’s blunder was no doubt magnified by the high-stakes environment of Sunday’s conference championship, though it shouldn’t deter him from future success, a minor—albeit widely-seen—setback that will hopefully have little impact on the rest of his career. If anything, the sting of coming up short will only motivate Ossai to come back bigger and better than ever, eager to prove himself as an invaluable member of a team with Super Bowl aspirations.
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