Archdeacon: Consoled by teammates, Bengals’ Ossai says ‘We lift each other up. I know the guys have my back’

KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Although the game had ended 40 minutes earlier, B.J. Hill was still playing defense.

The Cincinnati Bengals lost the AFC Championship game in heartbreaking fashion Sunday night at Arrowhead Stadium when Kansas City’s Harrison Butker — aided by an unnecessary roughness call on Cincinnati defensive end Joseph Ossai, who’d hit scrambling Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes out of bounds — kicked a 45-yard field goal with 3 seconds left to give the Chiefs the 23-20 victory.

That put Kansas City into Super Bowl LVII for a Feb. 12 matchup with the Philadelphia Eagles in Glendale, Ariz.

As the Chiefs fans roared in delight and the players celebrated on a field that soon would be covered in red and gold confetti, the crushed Ossai sat on the Bengals bench with his helmet tilted back and his face buried in his gloved hands.

He was sobbing.

Some of his teammates and coaches came over to try to console him, just as they would do later in the cramped visitors’ locker room.

Once the 23-year-old Ossai emerged from the showers there, he retreated to his locker and, with his back to the room, he slowly began to dress.

He put on a black velvet jacket with white satin piping and a cursive Keiser Clark logo, matching pants, a gem-encrusted watch and ring, and immaculate white shoes.

This was supposed to have been the perfect postgame look for a guy on a team bound for the Super Bowl.

Now he was all dressed up with nowhere to go.

When he finally turned around he was facing over a dozen media types ready to probe him about one of the worst moments of his young life.

Hill, the massive 312-pound defensive end who was wearing a T-shirt with a black fist on the front, had dressed a few lockers away, but when he saw the dynamic unfolding, he moved next to his crest-fallen teammate and gave a verbal flex:

“Any dumb questions and I’m shutting this down.”

And twice during the media scrum he did just that, telling one inquisitor: “C’mon man! Dumb question. Ask something else.”

Although the questions he objected to were not dumb — just a bit pointed — I liked the way he protected his devastated teammate —”my brother” he called him — at a time when it was most needed.

Immediately after the game, NFL fans began posting brutal social media comments about Ossai.

A New York Post headline proclaimed: “Bengals Joseph Ossai Gifts Chiefs Super Bowl 2023 Berth.”

Even Bengals linebacker Germaine Pratt let his emotions get the best of him after the game. As he marched to the locker room, he was angrily yelling to nobody in particular: “Why the (expletive) would you touch the quarterback?”

Pratt was an enraged outlier among the Bengals, who — from head coach Zac Taylor and quarterback Joe Burrow to defensive end Sam Hubbard and especially Hill — went out of their way to offer support.

“It’s a tough play, but it didn’t come down to that,” Taylor said afterward. “There were a lot of other plays we just missed out on.”

Hill was more adamant: “Just trying to blame it on one person ain’t gonna fly here. It didn’t come down to just one play. I should have got to Mahomes that play and got a sack.”

Ossai appreciated the support, but he didn’t try to hide behind it.

With his eyes still red and his voice sometimes little more than a whisper, he tried to explain what had happened:

“I’m sorry things didn’t go our way. I have to be better.

“I was in full chase mode and trying to push (Mahomes ) and maybe get him going backwards and keeping the clock running. I haven’t seen a replay yet. I don’t know how far out of bounds we were. "

In the dressing room afterwards he said Hubbard gave him some advice:

“I’ve got to learn from experience. I’ve got to know not to get close to the quarterback when he’s close to the sideline (and) there’s anything that could possibly cause a penalty in a dire situation like that.”

Pushing Mahomes with his right arm, he’d sent them both tumbling toward the Bengals bench.

Ossai suffered a knee injury and said Monday he’ll get an MRI.

Until then his teammates tried to ease the pain.

“(That) means the world to me,” he said. “These guys mean a lot to me. We’re a big family. It’s not fake. When the going gets tough, we don’t start pointing fingers. We lift each other up. I know the guys have my back. They ...”

His voice filled with emotion:

“It has given me peace right now.”

‘It hurts’

Hill, who came to Cincinnati two years ago in a trade with the New York Giants for center Billy Price, said the Bengals are: “The closest group I’ve ever been around.”

He smiled: “We’re like peanut butter and jelly.”

Players credit this bond for the way they turned the season around from an 0-2 start to 10 victories in a row before Sunday.

Things had been going so well that the season-ending loss — especially how it happened — stunned everyone afterward.

With eight seconds and no time outs left, Mahomes broke from the pocket and scrambled for a first down before heading out of bounds at the Cincinnati 47. That would only have left time for a Hail Mary pass or an unlikely 60-yard field goal attempt into the wind.

But the 15-yard roughness penalty moved the ball to the Bengals’ 27 yard line and got Butker in range to make the kick.

“Oh it aches, trust me,” Taylor said afterward. “To be this close … Our goal is to win the Super Bowl, so to be seconds away from getting back there and … watching them celebrate, it hurts.

“The team invested so much in each other to get to this point. We’ve been playing playoff football since Halloween and we just didn’t know it. We had to win 10 games to be here.

“I’m just really proud of the way these guys show up. ...The way they fought to the final whistle today. It’s hard to find anything you wouldn’t like about this football team.”

While he talked about his team’s character, he admitted: “This is when their character is going to be tested.”

Credit: Eric Gay

Credit: Eric Gay

‘I believe in Joe’

Ossai came to the U.S from Nigeria at age 10 and his family of seven lived in a one-bedroom apartment in Conroe, Texas, north of Houston.

Mocked early on because he was an immigrant, he found acceptance on the football field, became an All-American at the University of Texas and then a 6-foot-4, 263-pound defensive lineman drafted by Cincinnati in the third round of the 2021 draft.

But two games into his first preseason, he tore the meniscus in a knee and was lost for the year.

“I say it all the time,” he said. “I thank God because this time last year I was on the couch. To be able to be in this game, in this stadium, in his locker room with these guys is a blessing.

“I’m thankful for a lot of those guys. B.J., Sam (Hubbard), Trey (Hendrickson), a lot of the older guys, they do a good job of taking us under their wings.”

And that’s what Hill was doing Sunday night.

He said he wanted people to know “how (Joe) plays his freakin’ butt off each and every play.

That play right here he’s playing his butt off. I believe in Joe. I don’t have no hard feelings about that play at all.

“I know what his intentions were.”

This was Hill still playing defense long after the game was over.

This was one teammate protecting another.

This was family.

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