It was defensive holding. It was the textbook definition – a receiver’s jersey being grabbed by a defender – of defensive holding.
We can, and do, argue over what constitutes pass interference, which differs from DH. We can tut-tut over the NFL’s catch rules, which are so arcane we wonder if any catch is ever clean. We cannot say the same of DH. If it’s there, it’s obvious – the shirt is pulled away from the receiver’s body. If it’s obvious, it should be called. And yet ...
Once again, we’ve been informed by righteously indignant folks that Such A Penalty should never decide Such A Game. It happened at the end of the Chiefs’ victory over the Bengals in the AFC championship, though the out-of-bounds hit on Patrick Mahomes was as clear as late hits get. That it happened again in the Super Bowl, with the Chiefs again being the beneficiary, has led some to harrumph that the NFL is #Rigged in favor of Kansas City.
Except: Here’s what Eagles cornerback James Bradberry said of his interaction with receiver Juju Smith-Schuster: “It was holding. I tugged his jersey. I was hoping they would let it slide.”
Part of the problem was that Fox kept replaying the sequence from an end-zone angle that didn’t lend emphasis to Bradberry’s first grab. (Yes, there were two.) Smith-Schuster made a double move – in, then back out. Owing to its stop/start component, such a move often produces defensive holding.
Bradberry tried to grab the receiver twice, once with each hand. The clip you’ll find most on source-of-outrage-outlet Twitter doesn’t show the full result of the first grab, which is the telltale sign of Smith-Schuster’s jersey being tugged by Bradberry’s right hand. The defender then seeks to slow the receiver with his left hand, which doesn’t produce the same effect.
Fox analyst Greg Olsen offered the you-can’t-call-that-now plaint. The power of the announcing crew can never be understated. If we’re told something is a Bad Call, we tend to agree. Olsen is an excellent broadcaster who did a nice job Sunday, but in this instance he was wrong.
How are the final moments of a championship game supposed to work? Should nothing be flagged, ever? Should only the truly egregious be penalized? Does pulling a player’s jersey away from his body not qualify as egregious? If it doesn’t, what would? Removing a player’s helmet from his head?
“Referees shouldn’t decide a game.” We hear it often, but what does it mean? At the two-minute warning, should officials leave the field? Should no rule be enforced thereafter? (Were that the case, there’d be no game-winning touchdown passes in the final two minutes; all receivers would be tackled at the line of scrimmage.) Should we leave it to Mike Pereira to sort things out from on high?
Contrary to popular belief, I’m not entirely an idiot. (I picked the Chiefs to win, something none of Fox’s six analysts did.) I understand the sentiment. We’d like every game to be devoid of gray areas. Alas, nearly every NFL snap produces a shade of gray. Which is worse, a game hinging on a referee’s flag, or a game turning on a penalty that goes unpunished?
I covered the infamous Saints-Rams NFC title tilt, the one that led the league, albeit briefly, to allow challenges to flags regarding pass interference, or the absence of same. Had Nickell Robey-Coleman been called for PI on third down, New Orleans could have done as Kansas City did – run the clock down and kicked the winning field goal at the end.
Instead the Saints kicked a field goal on fourth down that gave them the lead with 1:41 left, leaving the Rams ample time to answer. The Rams won in overtime. There’s your rebuttal to the let-’em-play advocates. Would you prefer seeing the winning team benefit, literally, from foul play?
Sunday’s Super Bowl was a good game. It wasn’t decided by a bad call. Class dismissed.
The above is part of a regular exercise, written and curated by yours truly, available to all who register on AJC.com for our free Sports Daily newsletter. The full Buzz, which includes more opinions and extras like a weekly poll and pithy quotes, arrives via email around 1:30 p.m. on Monday, Wednesday and Friday.
FAQ: How do you sign up? Go to the AJC.com home page. Click on “newsletters” at the top right. Click on “Sports Daily.” You’ll need to enter your email address. Thanks in advance, folks.
About the Author