Which was worse? The Eagles second-half defense or that final flag?

James Bradberry #24, Philadelphia Eagles (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
James Bradberry #24, Philadelphia Eagles (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images) /

In 31 NFL locker rooms every offseason, a team of men assemble one final time to collect their belonging feeling as though they didn’t accomplish their goals. Only one team hoists the Vince Lombardi Trophy annually. This year the loser of pro football’s final game was the Philadelphia Eagles. On Tuesday they entered the NovaCare Complex somberly, and here’s what we’ve been feeling since hearing them talk.

Never have we seen an NFL team lose a Super Bowl and take it as hard as this one. Star wide receiver A.J. Brown looked dejected as he cleaned out his locker. Everyone did. It wasn’t supposed to be this way. This one will sting for a while.

What caused the Eagles’ Super Bowl loss? Was it that final penalty or the play of the defense?

If you’re down, you aren’t alone. We have all endured a myriad of emotions. We’ve gone from discussing a possible undefeated season and pre-playoff doubt to extreme confidence that led to massive disappointment, but how did we get here?

The Kansas City Chiefs‘ victory in Super Bowl LVII doubles as the second-largest second-half comeback in the history of football’s biggest game. The New England Patriots’ overtime triumph over the Atlanta Falcons remains the largest. Did defensive struggles rob the Birds? Were they robbed by the refs? That argument will go on forever, but here are a few thoughts on both statements.

Clearly, the Eagles’ defense failed them a win.

Philly’s offense outplayed the Chiefs with the exception of a fumble that led to an immediate six points. 35 points by a losing team is a Super Bowl record. Jalen Hurts set a record for rushing yards by a quarterback and rushing TDs by a quarterback. He also threw for more yards than Patrick Mahomes. So what went wrong?

Oh, that’s right… The Eagles gave up 24 second-half points and allowed K.C. to score on each of their second-half drives. It’s hard to win when that happens, but here’s what’s absolutely astonishing.

Philly still seemingly had a chance to snatch victory from the jaws of defeat. That means it was that damn flag that did them in… right?

Clearly, the holding penalty on James Bradberry cost the Eagles another Vince Lombardi Trophy!

Let’s establish two things. First, James Bradberry was guilty of holding. That can’t be denied. Then again, the call was also terrible. That can’t be denied either. How can both statements be true? We’re glad you asked. Here’s your answer.

The officials established a precedent early and then abandoned it at the game’s most crucial moment. Holding had been allowed for most of the contest. Then, with less than two minutes to play, it was determined that the call had to be made, and that can’t be forgiven.

What’s that? You’re still confused? Well, how about a couple of non-football examples to drive the point home? Let’s talk about some baseball and football for a second. Maybe that will assist you if you follow other sports.

In every baseball game, there’s a home-plate umpire. He establishes what he believes to be a strike zone. You and I can agree with whether or not we like it, but once said strike zone is created, we would hope he wouldn’t abandon it at the most critical juncture of the contest.

With that in mind, think of James Harden for a second. Some believe that he has made a small fortune thanks to owning two moves. One is a step back. The other is traveling. Now, why is this important?

What if a home-plate umpire called a few strikes while simultaneously and generously allowing a pitcher to paint the outside of the plate? What would we say after game seven of the World Series if, after calling strikes as balls (or vice versa), he then changed his opinion of what the strike zone is with one strike remaining in the ninth inning? What if someone walked or was struck out as a result? How would we feel about that?

How would we feel if a star basketball player was allowed an extra step during the first three quarters of the seventh game of the NBA Finals but denied that extra step with ten seconds remaining? What if the refs ‘allowed guys to play’, swallowed the whistle, and allowed contact but, with 30 seconds remaining in the game, they called a foul for something that had been ignored for the first 47 minutes and 30 seconds? Would we not be upset?

That, ladies and gentlemen, is why people are frustrated. Refs and umpires should never determine the outcome of the game. In Super Bowl LVII, the players were robbed. Fans were robbed. The viewing public was robbed. It isn’t just Eagles fans that are complaining either. Casual and neutral viewers feel cheated because a fantastic Super Bowl was decided by the guys in stripes and not by the 22 men that were on the field.

Had defensive holding on Bradberry not been called, the Chiefs probably kick a field goal. The Eagles probably get the ball with more than 90 seconds remaining.

Could Jalen have led them to victory? Might Philly have tied the game with a field goal and pushed the Super Bowl into overtime? We’ll never know the answer, and that’s why everyone is frustrated. The refs, in essence, ended the game for all of us and ended all hope for Philadelphia.

Okay, that’s cool, but did bad defense of a bad call ruin the Super Bowl for Philadelphia?

The answer is Jonathan Gannon‘s game plan, bad defense, and a horrible sequence on special teams ruined Philly’s chances of winning another Vince Lombardi Trophy. That’s the truth. There’s no way to deny that.

Was that holding call an awful one? It absolutely was. Did the referees establish a precedent for how the game would be called before abandoning it at the worst possible moment? That too is an accurate statement, but the fact of the matter is Philly gave up 24 points in the second half of the Super Bowl. The game should have never been placed in the refs’ hands. The game, one that Philly led by ten points at halftime should have never come down to a bad call.

Nothing can be done. Philly lost. That is the reality, and nothing can be done to change it. Bad calls are a part of the game. Ask the Raiders of the Saints (even if Roger Goodell says officiating has never been better), but when we lay down tonight and put heads to the pillow, two things will still be true.

The Birds can’t blame anyone but themselves for failing to close the show, and Jonathan Gannon will never be forgiven for this loss. That is the reality. That’s where we’ll end our story.