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Ripping Bengals’ Joseph Ossai over penalty was ‘wrong,’ says teammate

Cincinnati's Joseph Ossai, center left, and teammate Zach Carter combined on a fourth-quarter tackle of Kansas City's Patrick Mahomes. (Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)
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A day after lambasting teammate Joseph Ossai for a late-game gaffe that helped keep Cincinnati from reaching a second straight Super Bowl, Bengals linebacker Germaine Pratt said he was “wrong” for expressing an angry reaction.

“I wasn’t a great teammate in that moment,” Pratt told reporters Monday.

As members of the Bengals trudged into the visitors’ locker room Sunday night at Arrowhead Stadium in Kansas City, Mo., following their AFC championship game loss to the Chiefs, Pratt vented his frustration with Ossai. “Why the [expletive] did you touch the quarterback?” Pratt was filmed yelling in a clip that soon went viral.

The fourth-year linebacker was referring to a pivotal moment in Cincinnati’s 23-20 defeat, when Ossai gave Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes a shove after the latter ran out of bounds with eight seconds left. The penalty for unnecessary roughness issued to Ossai moved Kansas City from the Bengals’ 42-yard line to their 27, making for a much more manageable field goal attempt. Sure enough, on the next play Chiefs kicker Harrison Butker nailed a 45-yard attempt with three seconds left, effectively winning the game for his team.

The sequence left Ossai, a 22-year-old linebacker in his second NFL season, disconsolate on the Cincinnati bench after the contest ended and his teammates began filing off the field.

“I’ve just got to learn from experience and know not to get close to that quarterback when he’s close to that sideline,” Ossai said after the game. “If there’s anything that could possibly cause a penalty in a dire situation like that, I’ve got to do better.”

Some of Ossai’s teammates offered him words and gestures of comfort while he was on the bench, and immediately afterward Bengals defensive tackle B.J. Hill stood alongside the young linebacker in the locker room as Ossai — still teary-eyed and raw with emotion — spoke to the media. Hill took issue with some of the questions posed by reporters, and he said Ossai “played his butt off the whole game.”

“Just trying to blame it [on] one person ain’t going to fly with me, especially on this team where we got a great group of guys,” Hill added. “He had a great year. One play don’t define who you are.”

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“There were a lot of other plays that could have turned the tide in that game in one second, so that’s not the only one,” quarterback Joe Burrow said of the gaffe at a postgame news conference, after he threw for 270 yards and a touchdown but also took five sacks and was intercepted twice.

Bengals Coach Zac Taylor noted Monday that “the things that get highlighted usually are what happens at the end of the game, but there’s certainly at least one thing every coach and every player wishes we would have done differently.”

Of the efforts made by Ossai’s teammates to keep up his spirits, Taylor said, “It was awesome to see those guys support each other in a really tough moment.”

Pratt’s outburst was less supportive, and he expressed regret Monday while attempting to put his shouted words into context.

“It’s a reaction that anybody has as a competitor,” he said. “You know what was at stake in that moment. I love this game, no doubt in my mind. They talk about my character as a teammate. Some people never played this game. They don’t know how much effort guys put in the game. A guy made a mistake — over and done with.

“I was emotional. I was in the moment. I was wrong. As a man, you can look at yourself in the mirror and say, ‘I was wrong.’ ”

With Pratt, a 2019 third-round pick out of North Carolina State, at the end of his rookie contract and facing an uncertain future in free agency, he was asked if he was looking to return to Cincinnati. Replying that he wanted to be “back here,” he said: “The brotherhood we built around here is unmatched. It’s unstoppable. Nobody can break us.”

Ossai, a 2021 third-round pick out of Texas, also had pointed to the tight nature of the Bengals’ locker room in his comments Sunday.

“We’re one big family,” he said then. “It’s not fake. When the going gets tough, we don’t start pointing fingers. We lift each other up.”

“I’m just happy I’ve got this group of guys around me, supporting me right now,” he added, “because it’s hard.”