Tied 35-35 with two minutes to go in the fourth quarter, Super Bowl LVII between the Philadelphia Eagles and the Kansas City Chiefs seemed destined for a thrilling finish. Playing on a high ankle sprain, Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes lofted a pass to wideout Juju Smith-Schuster on third-and-9, looking for the go-ahead touchdown. The pass sailed out of Smith-Schuster’s reach, seemingly forcing the Chiefs to settle for three and give the ball back to Jalen Hurts and the white-hot Eagles offense with 1:48 to go.
Then, a flag flew.
As referee Carl Cheffers made his way to midfield, it was announced that the Chiefs would be granted a fresh set of downs on a holding penalty by Eagles cornerback — and former New York Giants Pro Bowler — James Bradberry. From there, the Chiefs ran out the clock and ultimately won the game on a Harrison Butker field goal with eight seconds to go. The Eagles would get one last shot with six seconds left, but Hurts’ last-ditch Hail Mary sailed 20 yards short of the end zone as red and yellow confetti rained down for a 38-35 Chiefs win.
After the game, the call became the central talking point, with many fans and pundits alike agreeing that the call was questionable and especially egregious in a Super Bowl that seemed poised to stake a claim as the game’s crowning installment:
It was within the five yard allowance.— Ryan Field (@RyanFieldABC) February 13, 2023
Can’t make that call to decide the game.
You just can’t. pic.twitter.com/6Qs0p3l7Ot
Most watched Super Bowl in history. Biggest moment of the NFL season. Was set up for a classic ending and it gets botched with a terrible call.— Adam Breneman (@AdamBreneman81) February 13, 2023
You can’t make this weak of a call in that big of a moment. pic.twitter.com/YlHRGQd7cf
Just like last year, my issue is this: There were ZERO calls for defensive holding before Bradberry was flagged. Zero. All game. Players play to the game that's being called.— Michael Hurley (@michaelFhurley) February 13, 2023
The infraction, such as it was, was far from egregious. Just can't call it. Cannot.
Cool.— Robert Griffin III (@RGIII) February 13, 2023
Bad call. This play happened 40 times in the game. If you don’t call it then, you don’t call it in that moment. https://t.co/SFTXNgAmRZ
While many were quick to criticize the call, surprisingly Bradberry himself was not among them. In a candid postgame interview, the cornerback admitted that he knew he had committed a penalty as soon as the ball was snapped:
#Eagles CB James Bradberry admits he did wrong on that controversial penalty. “It was a holding. I tugged on the jersey.”pic.twitter.com/hnQgYxuVPt— Dov Kleiman (@NFL_DovKleiman) February 13, 2023
In an ending seemingly fitting for the 2022 season, the game’s greatest spectacle turned from an all-time classic to a debate over a late-game call. And while Bradberry may think it was the right call, that decision will be one questioned by fans, pundits, and players alike for years to come.