Could the spirit of Vontaze Burfict have been haunting the Bengals at Arrowhead Stadium?
Well, in the strictest sense, there is the fact Mr. Burfict still is very much alive.
And beyond that, no matter how great the TV comedy is, we have no evidence “Ghosts” really are a thing.
What happened in the final seconds of the Chiefs’ 23-20 AFC championship game victory Sunday over the Bengals so resembled Cincinnati’s stupefying defeat in the 2015 wild-card round against the Steelers, and what happened in that game was so uncommon, it’s almost beyond belief the same thing could happen to the same franchise.
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The Chiefs were down to just 17 seconds and no timeouts in a tie game and still were 47 yards from the end zone and probably 14 yards from a legitimate shot at a game-winning field goal by kicker Harrison Butker. To avoid overtime, they needed a miracle.
You ask for a miracle? I give you the Cincinnati Bengals.
It was uncanny. On third-and-4, Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes dropped back to pass in search of a receiver to help cover the ground between his team and that field goal try. He immediately felt pressure from the Bengals’ rush, so he stepped forward and noticed there was running room to the right that might allow him to 1.) Gain a first down; and 2.) Stop the clock by stepping over the right sideline. As he took two steps over the boundary, though, he was pushed from behind by Bengals defensive end Joseph Ossai. Both Mahomes and Ossai crashed toward the bench, and the flag for a personal foul arrived at the scene almost immediately.
That moved the ball 15 yards closer to the goal, all the way to the 27, and so Butker’s kick was only from 45 yards instead of nearly 60.
“I’ve got to do better,” Ossai told reporters afterward.
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The play that occurred in January 2016 at then-Paul Brown Stadium — well, actually there were two of them — carried less consequence because it was so much earlier in the playoffs but came against the team Bengals fans love most to hate. It was impossible for Sunday’s game, though, not to evoke the memories of that stormy night in Cincinnati.
The Steelers and Bengals played in near-constant sleet. Neither team was able to get much going on offense in those conditions, but the Steelers were able to build a 15-0 lead by the third quarter. Then, Burfict knocked Steelers QB Ben Roethlisberger out of the game on a questionable hit that injured his shoulder. The Bengals rallied to grab a 16-15 lead.
After several ineffective drives with Landry Jones at quarterback for the Steelers, and after Ryan Shazier forced a fumble the Steelers recovered to give them one last chance with 1:23 left, Roethlisberger moved the team 44 yards to the Bengals’ 47 with 22 seconds left.
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Then, Roethlisberger dropped back and fired a pass to Antonio Brown over the middle. Burfict struck Brown in the head and prevented the catch but was assessed a personal foul penalty. And soon after that, cornerback Adam Jones stepped in and earned an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty. Bengals fans still argue Steelers assistant coach Joey Porter had no business being on the field — he said he was out there to check on Brown, and he appeared to be much closer to Jones during that time — but there was no flag thrown against him for his behavior.
So the Steelers wound up at the Cincinnati 17, making Chris Boswell’s kick to win the game not much more difficult than an extra-point kick.
At least one teammate, Germaine Pratt, was furious enough with what occurred Sunday to exclaim, “Why the f— do you touch the quarterback?” as he walked through the tunnel beneath Arrowhead Stadium. But Ossai reported being supported well by his teammates when everyone arrived in the locker room.
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Ossai does not deserve singular blame for the result, but he does deserve blame. Those suggesting there were many opportunities to lock up the game and Ossai’s play was not responsible for the defeat are trying too hard. He made a massive error in the wrong moment. Sometimes, that happens. And there are consequences.