JuJu Smith-Schuster #9 of Kansas City makes a catch against...

JuJu Smith-Schuster #9 of Kansas City makes a catch against James Bradberry #24 of the Philadelphia Eagles during the third quarter in Super Bowl LVII at State Farm Stadium on February 12, 2023 in Glendale, Arizona.  Credit: Getty Images/Rob Carr

GLENDALE, Ariz. — James Bradberry was seen as the final piece to the Eagles’ defense when he signed with them as a free agent in the offseason fresh off his release from the Giants. He wound up committing the costly penalty on the final drive of the game and becoming the centerpiece of the Eagles’ collapse in a 38-35 loss to Kansas City in Super Bowl LVII on Sunday.

On third-and-8 from the Eagles’ 15 with the score tied and just under two minutes remaining, Patrick Mahomes overthrew JuJu Smith-Schuster, but Bradberry was flagged for defensive holding. It was one of the comparably few penalties called in the game and the only one against the Eagles’ secondary that gave Kansas City a first down.

The penalty did not change the scoring opportunity for Kansas City, which probably would have kicked the field goal it eventually did, only from a little farther away, had that third down become a fourth. What it did was allow Kansas City to burn off most of the remainder of the game clock. It forced Philadelphia to use its last two timeouts, and, thanks to Jerick McKinnon’s wise decision to take a knee at the 2 rather than score a touchdown, keep the ball away from Philadelphia until only eight seconds remained.

Rather than having a chance to drive for potential tying or go-ahead points with a minute and a half or so left, the Eagles were left with only a desperation heave by Jalen Hurts as time expired that landed well short of the end zone or any eligible receiver who had run a deep pattern.

Though the call was hotly debated at the time (even LeBron James took to Twitter to complain about it) and no one likes when officiating determines a game, let alone a Super Bowl, Bradberry did yank on Smith-Schuster’s jersey and said as much after the game.

“It was a holding,” he confessed. “I tugged his jersey. I was hoping they would let it slide.”

They did not.

“The receiver went to the inside and he was attempting to release to the outside,” referee Carl Cheffers said in a pool report after the game. “The defender grabbed the jersey with his right hand and restricted him from releasing to the outside. So, therefore, we called defensive holding . . . There was no debate. [We were] just making sure what he had, and once he told us what he had, we went about our business.”

As for the call, Eagles coach Nick Sirianni said: “You’ll see me on the sideline, I’m going to argue with different things of calls here and there, but it’s not my job to make the call. Those guys have got to do that in split-second scenarios.

“ That’s what he saw, and he called it. I know it always appears to be that it’s one call that makes [the difference]. That’s not what it is. That’s not what it is. There are so many plays that contribute to the end result of the game.”

The play was the culmination of a game in which the Eagles led by 10 at halftime but were unable to keep that lead despite the MVP-worthy performance of Hurts, who scored three rushing touchdowns, threw for a fourth, and ran for a two-point conversion. He also committed a fumble that was returned for a Kansas City touchdown in the first half.

Had Hurts had the ball with a chance to put together a drive in the final minute, might the outcome have been different?

“I don’t think this game is defined by one play, one play throughout the game, or one call, or whatever it was,”  Hurts said. “You look back and you’re going to reflect on the things maybe that you could have done, something more . . . something to change the outcome of the game.”

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