The New England Patriots lost Super Bowl 52, but they can perhaps console themselves with the fact that will probably be hearing a lot less about how they supposedly get all the calls from officiating crews. Referees passed up reasonable opportunities to negate Eagles touchdowns in the second, third and fourth quarters Sunday, helping Philadelphia to a 41-33 triumph.
On the first of the touchdowns, Nick Foles caught a pass on a trick play near the Patriots’ goal line with just a few seconds left in the second quarter. Somewhat lost amid the excitement over Philadelphia’s gutsy call, however, was the fact that — as some noted — the Eagles could have been flagged for an illegal formation with only six, not seven, men on the line.
However, officials could have judged that wide receiver Alshon Jeffery was close enough to the line at the right side of the formation to merit a no-call. On the preceding play, some observers thought Jeffery should have drawn a pass-interference call, after he fell to the turf while being defended on an incomplete pass into the end zone.
In addition, a previous play involving Jeffery, on which he tipped a ball into the air that was then intercepted by the Patriots, drew some howls that New England should have been flagged for pass interference. That was red meat for the “Pats get all the calls” crowd, not to mention a number of disgruntled Eagles fans, but Philadelphia appeared to catch something of a break on a third-quarter score.
On that play, Foles hit running back Corey Clement for a 22-yard touchdown in the back of the end zone. While the play was undergoing its mandatory review, replays indicated Clement might not have had full possession of the ball, at least as defined by the NFL’s stringent catch rules, before going out of bounds.
On NBC’s telecast, analyst Cris Collinsworth expressed confidence that, upon further review, the touchdown catch would be overturned. However, officials allowed it to stand, prompting Collinsworth to say, “I give up.”
Collinsworth had a point, in that there were several instances during the regular season in which a receiver appeared to bobble the ball ever so slightly as he went out of the end zone, resulting in touchdowns being overturned. One prominent example came in a Week 16 game, and when Bills wide receiver Kelvin Benjamin’s score was taken away, many pointed out that the opposing team just happened to be the Patriots, and not for the first time.
The cleat was on the other foot Sunday, with the Patriots on the wrong end of game-changing referee decisions. Two former NFL executives in charge of officiating, Mike Pereira and Dean Blandino, agreed that it was correct to let Clement’s touchdown stand.
“Issue is control. Looks like he has it initially and gets both feet down in bounds. There is some movement of the ball, but don’t think enough to say loss of control. Call should stand,” Blandino tweeted.
Offered Pereira: “I agree with the stands. It was close but the initial ruling dictated. Good for Riveron/Yurk to stay with the standard that it not obvious that the call was wrong. Slight movement of the ball and slight bobble but slight is not enough to overturn.”
The biggest call that did not go New England’s way came with just over two minutes left, when Philadelphia’s Zach Ertz caught a pass near the end zone, took three steps and launched himself into the end zone. The tight end lost control of the ball as it hit the turf, sparking much debate about whether the NFL would judge that he failed to complete the catch, or that he had already become a runner before he dived and thus scored as soon as the ball broke the plane of the end zone.
“Control, two feet, on his feet turned upfield, he is then a runner. That is a clear touchdown. Surprised it took so long.” tweeted Pereira.
And Blandino: “He had the ball long enough to be a runner and then went to the ground. Call should stand.”
Sure enough, after a review, the Eagles again had a touchdown upheld. Some saw fit to recall a similar play in the regular season on which the Steelers’ Jesse James had a score overturned, benefiting the Patriots, but others noted that Ertz took an extra, crucial step on his play. Some also pointed out a 2015 playoff game in which the Cowboys’ Dez Bryant was ruled to have lost control of the ball after he appeared to have been reaching out toward the end zone with it.
The ultimate result of the three Eagles touchdowns, in terms of the outcome of the game, was critical, given that they won by eight points. Philadelphia, of course, played extremely well, particularly Foles, who was a backup most of the season, so the team need not feel like it got any unnecessary help in toppling the Patriots. However, New England and its fans, if they so choose, can look back with some irritation about a few of the referees’ decisions.
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