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KANSAS CITY, Mo. — There’s always the other side. Most people never see the other side.
When games like Sunday night’s riveting AFC Championship — a 23-20 Chiefs win over the Bengals at Arrowhead Stadium — are played, everyone hears the cheers, because the cheers are loudest and they come from the winners.
But they rarely see the tears.
Inside the cramped and dead-quite losing locker room late Sunday night, Bengals 22-year-old linebacker Joseph Ossai acted more mature than most 32-year-old veterans do in the kind of stressful times he found himself in.
Ossai’s name forever will live in infamy in Cincinnati sports lore … for all the wrong reasons.
With the Chiefs on a desperate final-seconds march to a game-winning field-goal attempt, the second-year Ossai made the mistake of his life.
Patrick Mahomes scrambled for 5 yards toward the sideline to stop the clock with eight seconds remaining and no timeouts, and Ossai, in hot pursuit, pushed him late to the ground, drawing a 15-yard personal foul that moved the ball to the Cincinnati 27-yard-line.
On the next play, Harrison Butker kicked a 45-yard field goal for the win.
Afterward, Ossai was accountable. He stood in front of his locker and, as he answered questions about the play and its massive consequences, he was emotional about his teammates and coaches coming to his defense.
“These guys mean a lot to me and to know that they have my back is extremely … it’s giving me peace right now,” Ossai said through tears. “It was great to have the support of my teammates. I’ve got to learn from experience and I’ve got to know not to get close to that quarterback when he’s close to that sideline. I’ve got to do better.”
Describing the play, Ossai said, “I was in full chase mode and trying to push him to maybe get him going backwards and keep that clock running. I knew he was going for that sideline. I didn’t know how far out of bounds we were.”
Adding insult to the play, Ossai injured his right knee as he slid into people and equipment on the sideline and said he was expecting to have an MRI exam Monday.
As for his role in the loss, Ossai said Bengals coach Zac Taylor “just told me to keep my head up. He told me there were a bunch of different plays we had to make and it didn’t come down to that one. I’ve just got to just keep moving forward. I’ve got to do better. It’s extremely hard.”
The support Ossai got from his teammates was powerful. Former Giants defensive tackle B.J. Hill stood right next to Ossai as he answered questions from a small group of reporters.
“We’re one big family,” Ossai said. “When the going gets tough, we don’t start pointing fingers, we lift each other up. I’m just happy I have this group of guys around me right now supporting me, because it’s hard. There are a bunch of guys in this room that I’m very thankful for.
“I’m sorry things didn’t go our way.”
Hill praised Ossai for how hard he played, saying, “He played his butt off the whole game. That play didn’t cost us the game. I should have made more plays. I should have gotten the sack. I should have gotten [Mahomes] down. It didn’t come down to that play.
“I’m not going to put up with questions saying it’s all his fault. We’ve got each other’s back. It takes a whole team. It’s a group effort.”
Hill said he felt compelled to stand right next to Ossai as he answered questions “because that’s brother.’’
“Trying to blame this [loss] on one person, that ain’t going to fly with me,” Hill told The Post. “One play don’t define who you are. I’ve been in that situation, too. A couple years ago, I had a chance to get a game-winning sack and I missed the sack. It was on me. I’ve been there.
“[Ossai] plays his butt off every freaking play. That play there, he was playing his butt off. That’s how he plays. I have no hard feelings about that play at all, because I know what his intention was. His intention was to play hard.”
Hopefully, the support of Ossai’s coaches and teammates will allow him to move on from this and it doesn’t become a burden that breaks him.
Because mistakes like the one Ossai made Sunday night in such a high-profile situation with the world watching can ruin an athlete’s career if he or she allows it to. The way Ossai handled himself should go a long way toward his healing.