That is the taste left in my mouth following the epic battle that was Super Bowl 57. Now, it would be a different type of sour had the game not ended with a yellow piece of laundry flying onto the field and forever shattering the hearts of an already scarred fanbase. Alas, it was a referee who ended the record breaking season that the Philadelphia Eagles had put together in 2022 and into 2023.
Of course, the entire game was not won or lost by this play, yet it will forever be remembered as the biggest “what if” moment in Philadelphia sports lore.
What if there was no call and Jalen Hurts gets the ball with a minute and a half left in the game? Does he prove he can lead a career-defining drive that ends with a last second touchdown to win the game? Or does the moment prove too big for the 24 year old signal caller and he ultimately loses the game anyway?
Any Eagles fan who has been watching the career of Hurts knows the answer with almost one hundred percent certainty. Jalen Hurts wins that game.
Yet, we stand here on February 13, in the harsh reality that he wasn’t even given the chance to test that theory. We stand instead, in a reality that a picky penalty was called on a defender to effectively win the game for the Chiefs.
Do not make the mistake that the Eagles were by any means blameless for this loss. Far from it. When the defense that placed third all-time in sack totals cannot record a single sack and a very limited amount of pressure on Mahomes, things will not end well for that unit.
Combine this with no takeaways and a secondary that just never seemed to learn from its mistakes and you get the recipe of disaster that unfolded in Glendale, Arizona.
Speaking of the venue at which the game was played on that fateful night, the turf proved to play a factor in the game as well. The questionable surface led to players falling both in open space or on the pass rush, leaving Hasson Reddick a sitting duck for the offensive linemen to neutralize with relative ease. Defensive coordinator Jonathan Gannon’s inability to adjust led to Mahomes having all day to throw and the Kansas City running game to have immense second half success.
Two frustrating wide open touchdowns from Mahomes near the goal line displayed the differences between Andy Reid’s sharp offensive scheming and the defense’s poor coaching. In both plays, the receiver faked a motion and the defender bought it so badly that both times they were already on the opposite side of the field when the ball got snapped. Mahomes quickly fired it to his receivers and both resulted in walk-in touchdowns. Both times, the defenders (Avonte Maddox and Darius Slay) were left in a daze as the Chiefs racked up points. Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me.
As for the offense, Jalen Hurts was nothing short of legendary. Had Philadelphia pulled out the victory, Hurts would assuredly have been named MVP of the game. Despite an early fumble which the Chiefs returned for a touchdown, Hurts was his usual calm, cool, and collected self as he dealt over three hundred yards from the air and seventy on the ground along with four total scores. He came up big in clutch moments when his team needed him most, such as the third and fourteen conversion to Dallas Goedert and the two point conversion in which he drove himself through two defenders to tie the game with just five minutes left in the game. Jalen Hurts gave me no doubt in my mind that he would have gotten this team either in field goal range or in the end zone if given that one more chance prior to the infamous holding call.
Speaking of “the call”, the infamous game-ender was made within the last two minutes of what would have forever been remembered as an all-time classic Super Bowl. Eagles cornerback James Bradberry, who has been an outstanding player all season, slightly tugged the jersey of Chiefs receiver; Juju Smith-Schuster and a flag was called which set up the game winning field goal for Kansas City. The penalty ended up eliminating any real chance the Eagles had of a game tying/winning drive by allowing the Chiefs to wind the clock down to a measly eight seconds before they kicked it back to the Eagles.
The issue at hand is not necessarily if the penalty was technically holding, the issue is the precedence set by the referees throughout the game, the situation in which the penalty was called, and the optics of how the flag was thrown.
First, by rule, the slight tugging of a jersey is technically holding. However, in Bradberry’s case, the tug did not hinder the receiver’s route whatsoever. In fact, Smith-Schuster was open in the endzone and would have scored had his quarterback not thrown it far above his head. The ball was uncatchable, the receiver was open, no fan would have complained for a penalty had it not been called.
Second, the referees had not called holding all day when there in fact were several instances much more egregious than the fateful one called to end the game. Is it not holding when Hasson Reddick has fallen on the horribly treated 800 thousand dollar turf and the Chiefs right tackle just lays on him? Are we just supposed to not see the illegal block in the back during the Kadarius Toney punt return that set up an easy touchdown for the Chiefs? The referees were not calling many ticky tacky penalties that day which led players to believe the game was going to be able to be fully settled on the field and not by the whistle.
Finally, the optics. I still remember the joy in my head when the ball fell incomplete and the Eagles were destined to get the ball back after a Chiefs field goal attempt. It was shattered in a few seconds however as the announcement that there was a penalty flag had been thrown after the play. Holding is a penalty which is called when it happens on the field, not after the play has fully unfolded. This one, however, was thrown after the ball fell incomplete and Patrick Mahomes was jumping and pointing for a penalty, despite having missed an open receiver for a touchdown. The penalty that was committed “prior to the pass” was called after the MVP missed an open receiver for an easy touchdown. On that stage, in that scenario, after how the game had been called up to that point, you simply cannot make that call! The NFL has had a well known referee issue for several years given the amount of times they have single-handedly determined the outcome of games in the final minutes. One would think that, given this well-documented scrutiny, the league would shy from making such controversial calls on the biggest stage in American sports, but alas the Zebras ended the Eagles season in a most heartbreaking fashion.
This one will sting for quite a while. Yet, the future is bright in this city with a man like Jalen Hurts leading the team. From what I have seen from Hurts thus far in his career, this loss will only ignite a fire in Hurts’ mind and he will be kindling it until next September. Maybe he did not get MVP and maybe no Super Bowl either, but now we have an even hungrier Jalen Hurts at the helm of this team for the foreseeable future. If he was starving before, imagine how ravenous he is now that he has had a glimpse of the banquet at the top of the mountain.
The future is in good hands. Fly Eagles Fly.
Joseph Gill is a fourth year English major with a minor in Journalism. JG923276@wcupa.edu