One Bad Play

One mistake doesn’t define a game or career. How everyone reacts does.

Joseph Ossai couldn’t hold back his tears.

His relentless effort and competitive spirit unintentionally caused him to hit Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes out of bounds, resulting in a 15-yard penalty that moved the ball into field goal range.

The Chiefs would make that ensuing kick and defeat Ossai’s Cincinnati Bengals, 23-20, to earn a spot in Super Bowl LVII.

Ossai’s pain was obvious in the moments after, tears streaming down his eyes as he felt he had let his team down. It’s a burden that won’t subside anytime soon.

"I gotta learn from experience," Ossai said, relaying the advice he received from Cincinnati defensive end Sam Hubbard. "I gotta 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 gotta do better."

But in a team sport, one play never causes a team to lose.

Critics fail to recognize the punt return of 29 yards before the Ossai hit, or the failure to convert 2nd down and 2 by the offense moments prior.

All eyes point to the mistake by Ossai.

It’s a leader’s obligation, though, to appreciate the pain Ossai felt — because winning meant so much to him. If the Bengals had more players like him, they might be playing on the sport’s biggest stage in two weeks.

One mistake doesn’t define a game or career. How everyone reacts does.

Bengals head coach Zac Taylor must take the responsibility off of Ossai and stand in front of him and his team. As the leader, now is the time to become accountable for how the entire team, including his coaches and himself, didn’t meet the challenge they faced in the game.

Taylor must:

Restore Confidence

In sports, no other quality is so elusive, yet so important. After losing, a team’s confidence is likely to suffer and the blame-game begins — focus narrowing to one play. The key to overcoming this is to acknowledge it rather than turn away, then cultivate some strategies to restore confidence.

Use your past

  • Remind yourself and your team of previous successes and, most importantly, how we can grow from our loss.

Use your present

  • Talk positively — be upbeat.

  • Use others who have fallen and risen as examples moving forward.

Use the future

  • Visualize yourself and your team being successful. Write notes to each player thanking them for their work and reminding them what will it take for the team next season.

  • Then ask them in the note: “What will we do differently next time?” This helps shift the focus onto the positives and away from what you can’t change.

Taylor can use this game to launch his team into next season.

And he can turn one unfortunate mistake into a great learning experience for all.