The Super Bowl on Sunday was one of the most exciting games of all-time. Yet a controversial penalty in the final minutes is all anyone can talk about. This controversy comes a year after a similar call was made on the Los Angeles Rams’ game-winning drive in Super Bowl LVI. More on that in a moment.
Kansas City was driving with just under two minutes left to play in regulation. On third down with the Chiefs on the Eagles’ 15-yard line, Patrick Mahomes floated a pass to JuJu Smith-Schuster with corner James Bradberry in coverage. If you haven’t seen this replayed a thousand times already, why not watch it again?
Bradberry was called for holding which allowed KC to run out the clock and kick a field goal in the waning seconds. The penalty fueled the “NFL is rigged” crowd which is ridiculous believing the league is scripted to begin with. If that were the case, wouldn’t people quit tuning in after watching another “Tom Brady wins the Super Bowl” storyline?
It’s reasonable for viewers to feel robbed after that deflating finish. Football fans are upset with the call but more so feel cheated from an all-time exciting ending following a back-and-forth second half. Super Bowl LVII was shaping up to be one of the greatest ever. Honestly, I think it still deserves to be up there even if the scriptwriters botched the ending a little.
Philly’s star corner admitted after the game that he held Smith-Schuster. Perhaps he was simply following what was in the script. Try ad-libbing next time Bradberry! The play didn’t look like much initially which is why everyone is losing their shiitake. From another angle, a brief jersey tug could be seen.
Find it very weird that neither Burkhardt nor Olsen were talking about this moment with the hold. Pereira mentioned it but they seemed to brush it off. pic.twitter.com/uR84UlpoNE— Pete Scantlebury (@PeteScantlebury) February 13, 2023
The reason I’ve brought this up now is that a similar call was made in the same situation in last year’s Super Bowl. On a third-and-goal with LA driving down 20-16, Bengals linebacker Logan Wilson batted down a pass intended for Cooper Kupp. Officials threw the flag, believing Wilson was early on the play.
You can’t tell me this is a penalty Logan Wilson played this perfectly…. https://t.co/FP5Afz6P7R— dewey (@Justin_Roll_11) February 13, 2023
We all know what happened after this. Matthew Stafford threw the game-winner, Aaron Donald got to Joe Burrow to win his ring and everyone went to Disney World happy. In a big game with so much on the line, the officiating has to be clean, which it was on Sunday up until the end. Officials were letting the guys play. So why throw the flag at that moment when others were missed along the way?
Officials will pick and choose when to throw a flag. That doesn’t make what they do rigged or scripted. It just means they’re human, faults and all. Mistakes will happen and calls will be missed. Take for instance if LA lost the Super Bowl last season. All anyone would talk about is this play:
Tee Higgins got away with a facemask pic.twitter.com/ZqApkRkZad— Ben Brown (@BenBrownPL) February 14, 2022
The biggest problem with the NFL is that no one is holding the refs accountable when they do make mistakes or generate controversy. League Commissioner Roger Goodell is unwilling to do so, widely praising officiating leading up to the Big Game.
“I don’t think it’s ever been better in the league,” Goodell said via ESPN. “There are over 42,000 plays in a season. Multiple infractions could occur on any play. Take that out or extrapolate that. That’s hundreds if not millions of potential fouls. And our officials do an extraordinary job of getting those. Are there mistakes in the context of that? Yes, they are not perfect and officiating never will be.”
If these officials are “not perfect”, then why are they consistently treated that way? Remember the aftermath of the infamous “Fail Mary” game between the Seattle Seahawks and Green Bay Packers? League officials stayed silent for 12 hours before issuing a statement backing the controversial call. The NFL didn’t condemn poor officiating then so why the hell would they start now?
Accountability isn’t a hard practice to follow, even if the league treats it like brain surgery. The NFL could learn a few lessons from their competitors. In the NBA where their officials made critical errors in a recent Lakers-Celtics game. Rather than defending their calls, the refs publicly admitted their mistakes:
Like everyone else, referees make mistakes. We made one at the end of last night’s game and that is gut-wrenching for us. This play will weigh heavily and cause sleepless nights as we strive to be the best referees we can be.https://t.co/WyN8QVuTOl— NBA Referees (@OfficialNBARefs) January 29, 2023
The NFL would never be caught dead issuing such a statement. Instead their machine prefers trudging ahead like nothing ever happened. What you can’t see won’t hurt you I suppose. Changes could be on the horizon if the Rams’ final game against the Seahawks is any indication. I doubt changes will ever happen so forgive me for being an mindless optimist.
An NFL executive had deemed that Week 18 matchup “the worst officiated game of the year”. Not hard to see why as there were multiple questionable calls in the fourth quarter and overtime. One was a running into the kicker penalty on LA special teams player Jonah Williams, who was flagged for running into Seattle punter Michael Dickson. Replay had shown Williams was pushed into Dickson and the Seahawks were given a first down on what would become a game-tying drive.
Then was this unnecessary roughness call on Jalen Ramsey:
Jalen Ramsey hit on Geno Smith pic.twitter.com/3uJ00AmTLs— Ted Buddwell (@TedBuddy8) January 9, 2023
Ramsey had an angle on Geno Smith who was still barely in bounds at the time. The back judge missed DK Metcalf clearly not keeping his hands to himself as he poked his hand into the corner’s face. Jalen deserves a Razzie for that flop though. Finally in overtime, Quandre Diggs intercepted Baker Mayfield and preceded to taunt Bobby Wagner while running along the Rams’ sideline. For a league supposedly cracking down on the most heinous penalty of all, the refs missed an easy one.
Before Quandre Diggs’ former team made it official, the Pro Bowl safety’s 4th INT of the year set up the game-winning kick in OT that kept the #Seahawks season alive.— Dugar, Michael-Shawn (@MikeDugar) January 9, 2023
“He’s a dog. He’s one of one. He’s probably the only person who can make that play.” https://t.co/piwKcBUuJk pic.twitter.com/oHyPGTYk2q
I could go on and on about this but the league will never make an effort to fix their officiating. They haven’t after numerous egregious calls or non-calls in the past. Let’s not act like the Rams are victimless in the midst of all these blunders either. It’s not like they benefited from a bad call on the way to a Super Bowl or anything.
Poor officiating has plagued the NFL for quite some time. However, there might be a solution or at least ways to help combat it despite the league’s resistance to the idea. Refs should be trained better by the NFL plain and simple. The league needs to accomplish this by having their officials watch a compilation of clips showing every penalty to the extremes in action which in turn, would hopefully make their judgement calls on the field more consistent. Turning to more technology with further replay assistance would help as well. Anything to reduce the human element on the field is a must.
No matter what solutions are proposed, there will always be mistakes being made. The NFL has given their officials considerable leeway due to a refusal to call them out whenever necessary. That doesn’t mean the league is scripted or fixed. It just means they’re human, and they’ll probably never learn until it’s too late.