It was a key penalty after the two-minute warning, one which was widely questioned whether field judge John Jenkins should have thrown a flag in that situation. The TV broadcast did not show a conclusive angle of the defensive hold.
Footage from NFL Films confirms that Eagles cornerback James Bradberry held JuJu Smith-Schuster. That call allowed the Chiefs to bleed the clock down to almost no time left and kick the winning field goal.
That angle is almost the exact same angle that Jenkins had when he threw his flag. Bradberry admitted he held during the post-game interview with the media.
We see the jersey tug. But, does it rise to the level of a foul? The big question is did Smith-Schuster lose steps or get pulled off stride when running his route? You can see the receiver get held up just an instant during the jersey tug. Also, you can make the argument that Bradberry’s right arm obstructed Smith-Schuster’s pass route after he turned to run downfield.
During the game, I grimaced when I first saw the flag. I wrote that we didn’t have the angle that Jenkins had, but I had my doubts about the flag.
Bradberry’s admission was enough for me to walk back those doubts.
James Bradberry takes accountability for his controversial penalty. “It was a holding. I tugged on the jersey.” pic.twitter.com/YqT7wsAzMY— Ben Volin (@BenVolin) February 13, 2023
And, the footage from NFL Films now confirms that my initial thought on the call was dead wrong.
This isn’t the first time it has taken several days to find the definitive angle. In the 1989 NFL Divisional Playoff between the Los Angeles Rams and the New York Giants, field judge Bernie Kukar called Giants cornerback Sheldon White for pass interference in overtime. (The current back judge position was named field judge prior to 1998.) CBS showed White defending Rams receiver Flipper Anderson and, just like the TV angles in Super Bowl LVII, the call looked marginal at best. After a false-start penalty, quarterback Jim Everett threw a touchdown pass to Anderson. According to the book The Third Team, Giants coach Bill Parcells chased the officials to their locker room and roared, “You’d better be right!” at Kukar.
After the game, Art McNally, supervisor of officials, scoured footage and could not find any video evidence that rose to the level of pass interference. Finally, in the middle of the week, McNally saw a still photograph shot from the end zone that was almost Kukar’s exact angle. It showed White grabbing Anderson and the ball was very catchable. It took several days, but Kukar’s flag was confirmed.
The lesson to learn (and re-learn) is this: NFL playoff officials are the best in the business. They will only throw the flag if they see a material restriction or if a player gains an unfair advantage. Even if every TV replay fails to show the incriminating angle, the official has the best angle. Even a five-degree change in angle can make a call look like a mistake. But, if the official is in the right position, uses proper mechanics and exercises the good judgement that got him the playoff assignment, he’ll get the call right almost every time.
Jenkins did all of that and he nailed the call.