The Cincinnati Bengals have no one to blame but themselves for how the AFC Championship Game ended in Kansas City. Despite having drained the Chiefs’ timeouts with 17 seconds remaining in the game, the Bengals produced an impactful penalty that pushed Kansas City from outside of field goal range to inside field goal range and completely turned the game on its head in an instant.
Facing a third-and-4 on Cincinnati’s 47-yard line, Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes — limited athletically due to a high ankle sprain — broke the pocket to move the sticks and give Kansas City another play or two in the game. Even though Mahomes had managed to get both feet out of bounds at the point of contact, Bengals pass rusher Joseph Ossai — who for whatever reason was unaware of the high-leverage situation — hit the star quarterback well outside the field of play. To make it worse, Ossai had to put on the brakes quickly, as he was about to run into his team’s bench, which caused a visible hyperextension of his knee that demanded immediate treatment from the Cincinnati medical staff.
This is how the #Chiefs beat the #Bengals, what was Ossai doing?pic.twitter.com/5SU6FXysBs
— Dov Kleiman (@NFL_DovKleiman) January 30, 2023
That hit, which served no purpose as Mahomes was going out of bounds to stop the clock, cost the Bengals 15 yards, turning a 56-yard field goal attempt into a 41-yarder — a relative chip shot for a professional kicker. Before the penalty, the Chiefs were right on the edge of field goal range, meaning they probably would have attempted one more pass to the sideline area. At that point, they couldn’t have afforded to be tackled in bounds without any timeouts remaining and only eight seconds left on the clock.
There’s no promise that Kansas City kicker Harrison Butker, who has struggled for stretches since his early-season ankle injury, could have made that 56-yard field goal or that Mahomes and the Chiefs could have completed one more pass, as the Bengals should have been aware of the sideline-only situation they were in. But Ossai should have had situational awareness on the play before, too, and now Kansas City is going to the Super Bowl for the third time in four seasons.