I’m not saying the refs blew the game. The Philadelphia Eagles won the Super Bowl, fair and square. But these are the calls New England Patriots fans could point to if they wanted to use that excuse.
1. Brandin Cooks’ concussion
Eagles safety Malcolm Jenkins speared the Patriots wide receiver from behind with a helmet-to-helmet hit that sent him into concussion protocol and knocked him out of the game for good.
Technically, Cooks was no longer a receiver on the play, having become a runner looking downfield, so the referees may have actually made the correct no-call, depending on how you interpret this part of the unnecessary roughness rule: “If a player uses any part of his helmet (including the top/crown and forehead/”hairline” parts) or facemask to butt, spear, or ram an opponent violently or unnecessarily.”
For his part, Chris Nowinski, the doctor in charge of concussion research at Boston University, felt if there wasn’t a rule against it already, there should be.
“Plays like Malcolm Jenkins unloading on Brandin Cooks helmet-to-helmet from behind cannot continue if the NFL doesn’t want more fans to walk away,” Nowinski wrote on Twitter. “No penalty? This rule has to change in the offseason if we still respect human life.”
Patriots quarterback Tom Brady still threw for 505 yards and three scores in the game, but who’s to say he wouldn’t have thrown for more had Cooks — the team’s leading wideout — not been concussed?
2. Nick Foles’ touchdown catch
Eagles wide receiver Alshon Jeffery was not lined up on the line of scrimmage prior to Philadelphia’s trick play that resulted in a touchdown catch for Foles, leaving just six players on the line instead of the requisite seven. Former Patriots linebacker turned analyst Matt Chatham shared a screenshot of it:
The fourth down trick play TS to Nick Foles was an illegal formation, should have been called back…extended WR to the top of the screen is off the ball (needs to be on the line with just the OT on inside him). #SB52 #Eagles #Patriots pic.twitter.com/tdX7hIpiGu
— Matt Chatham (@chatham58) February 5, 2018
This, too, is open to some interpretation, since receivers are given some leeway as to what constitutes proper alignment on the line of scrimmage. As many have pointed out, Jeffery appears to gesture toward the official on the sideline, presumably to receive clearance that he was lined up properly.
Foles’ TD catch gave the Eagles a 22-12 lead heading into halftime.
3. Corey Clement’s touchdown catch
Did the Eagles running back catch the ball and get two feet down in bounds? Yes.
Did the ball move between those steps? Yes.
The receiver must maintain complete control through those two steps and to the ground or risk being called out of bounds. Control is open to interpretation. Were the officials who overturned similar plays all season wrong? Or was Gene Steratore wrong not to overturn this play in the Super Bowl?
Clement’s touchdown on third and six pushed Philadelphia’s lead to 29-19 midway through the third.
4. Zach Ertz’s touchdown catch
The Eagles came through with a huge response to New England’s go-ahead fourth-quarter drive, marching 75 yards on a 14-play drive that was capped by the tight end’s lunge into the end zone.
Except, Ertz lost the ball when he landed. Ertz, too, was responsible for maintaining possession to the ground. Upon review, officials ruled that he had turned from a receiver into a runner upon taking his third step, and therefore the drop after crossing the goal line had no bearing on the result.
Pittsburgh Steelers and Dallas Cowboys fans would disagree. Steelers tight end Jesse James did something similar during the regular season, and his catch — which would have also handed the Patriots a loss and quite possibly delivered the No. 1 seed to Pittsburgh — was ruled incomplete, as was Cowboys wideout Dez Bryant’s controversial no-catch in the divisional round of the 2014 playoffs.
One could argue neither James nor Bryant established himself as a runner the way Ertz did.
5. The Hail Mary
On the Patriots’ last-ditch effort to tie the game, wide receiver Chris Hogan was decked by an Eagles defender at the 35-yard line, taking him out of the failed Hail Mary to Rob Gronkowski, who also had a handful of Philadelphia defenders draped all over him.
Hearing quite a bit of chatter from #NFL coaches about the non-call on the obvious illegal contact against Chris Hogan on the final play. Officials don't want to determine the outcome in that situation. Hogan is one of the guys who is supposed to catch the ball on a tip. pic.twitter.com/0kQsajDA5L
— Mike Sando, ESPN.com (@SandoESPN) February 5, 2018
There’s really no explaining away that call, which would have given the Patriots another chance at the end zone from the 35, unless you want to argue that the officials can’t make a potential game-changing call in that situation. Of course, New England still would have had to convert the touchdown and add a two-point conversion just to tie the game at that point. Still, Brady likes his chances.
Most of these are open to some interpretation. How you interpret them probably depends whether you are a Patriots fan or not. Now, here’s where you point out that New England has gotten every call forever, and they were only whistled for one penalty in each of their last two playoff games.
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