GLENDALE, Ariz. — The reaction to James Bradberry’s defensive holding call with 1:54 left in the Super Bowl was as close to unanimous as it gets.
Everyone outside of Missouri and Kansas hated it.
The penalty, with the Eagles’ Bradberry slightly grabbing Chiefs receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster’s jersey on third and 8, gave the Chiefs a first down and allowed them to bleed the clock for a 38-35 win. It deprived us of a more dramatic ending, including the possibility of overtime.
“I think you let them play,” Fox analyst Greg Olsen said.
“Not for the Super Bowl man!” tweeted LeBron James.
“Refs ruined a classic,” wrote The Ringer.
“Can’t [expletive] call that there,” commentator and former punter Pat McAfee said.
You know who didn’t complain about the penalty? Or hide from culpability? James Bradberry.
“I mean, I pulled the jersey, they called holding,” he said matter-of-factly. “I was hoping they would let it ride, but it was a hold.”
He stood at his locker for 20 minutes following the loss, answering question after question from reporters. The penalty was ticky-tack, and robbed the Eagles of having about 1:45 to tie or win the game.
How appropriate that the final, most important game of the season came down to controversial officiating. Super Bowl LVII wasn’t nearly as bad as the AFC Championship, in which confusing and inconsistent officiating marred a terrific game. Sunday’s game saw just nine accepted penalties for 47 yards, as the officials were letting the players play.
But the Super Bowl also exemplified everything that has been wrong with NFL officiating this year — lengthy, confusing replay decisions, and a questionable call that has a major impact on the outcome.
Bradberry took the hit for the NFL, refusing to blame the officials or anyone but himself.
“At the end of the day, you pull on the jersey a little bit, and according to the rule by black and white, that’s [holding],” he said.
On the fateful play, Smith-Schuster ran a double move — cut inside, then to a wheel route on the outside. Bradberry grabbed him slightly with his right arm, drawing the flag.
“It’s hard to be able to cover a double move,” said Bradberry, 29. “I was just trying to get some momentum off him to go back out, and I pulled on his jersey, so they called it.”
Patrick Mahomes’s pass fell incomplete on the play, meaning the Chiefs would have kicked a field goal with about 1:45 left if not for the penalty. Instead, thanks to the first down from Bradberry’s penalty, the Chiefs kicked the winner with eight seconds left.
Smith-Schuster said there was no doubt he was obstructed and the penalty was appropriate.
“Yes, 100 percent,” he said. “My route was to strike in and strike back out. Philadelphia cornerback James Bradberry is a good player, but someday the call is going to be called.”
The penalty may leave a sour taste in Bradberry’s mouth this offseason, spoiling what was a fantastic first season in Philadelphia. A seven-year veteran, Bradberry was one of the Eagles’ home run acquisitions of the offseason, and a big part of their success. He started all 17 games, had three interceptions and 17 passes defended, and earned his first career All-Pro honor.
He just got caught making a slight jersey tug at the worst possible moment.
“I was hoping he would let it go,” Bradberry said. “But of course he’s a ref, it’s his big game, and it was holding. So they called it.”
Bradberry put on a master class in accountability in the locker room. It couldn’t have been easy. Not 45 minutes had passed since his team suffered a devastating loss in the Super Bowl. His penalty pretty much cost his team the game. Hundreds of millions of people thought he was wronged.
Yet Bradberry refused to put the blame on anyone but himself.
“I try not to leave the game in the officials’ hands, and I did it tonight,” he said. “They were pretty consistent for the most part. I just can’t be blatant with it.”
Bradberry’s teammates expressed similar sentiments, but also put the loss on themselves for making too many mistakes.
“I’ll trust the refs,” defensive end Brandon Graham said. “The refs are going to make the call in the moment of the game, and that one stung, but we shouldn’t even have put ourselves in that position.”
Eagles coach Nick Sirianni didn’t blame the officiating, either.
“Those guys got to do that in split-second scenarios,” he said. “That’s what he saw, and he called it. There are so many plays that contribute to the ending result of the game and today, [the Chiefs] were better than we were.”
Bradberry didn’t want to make excuses about the slick turf at State Farm Stadium either. Eagles pass rusher Haason Reddick called it “the worst field that I’ve ever played on,” but Bradberry wouldn’t go there.
“I don’t want to make excuses,” he said. “Field was good enough.”
Bradberry’s accountability impressed his teammates.
“He’s been that way his entire time here,” center and captain Jason Kelce said. “He’s an awesome teammate.
“We all had our mistakes today, it was just, unfortunately, collectively a few too many. But I think all you can do at the end of the day is be true to yourself, be accountable, and in the long run you’ll feel a lot better about it.”
Bradberry finally left the locker room after speaking with several waves of reporters, both individually and in groups.
“I can’t put it on the ref,” he said. “He didn’t take any snaps tonight. I took all those snaps out there, and one of the crucial snaps of the game, he caught me slipping.”
Read more about the Super Bowl:
- Instant analysis: Sorry, Patriots fans, but these Chiefs are now a dynasty, too | Ben Volin
- Chiefs 38, Eagles 35: Patrick Mahomes, Kansas City roar back to win second title in four seasons
- Rob Gronkowski misses field goal in live Super Bowl commercial
- Meet Leominster’s Noah Gray, who won a Super Bowl ring with the Chiefs
- Super Bowl field, at cost of $800,000, is pilloried by fans and players
Ben Volin can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.