By Ayanna Bronner
GLENDALE, Ariz. – There is much debate regarding the defensive holding penalty that went against the Philadelphia Eagles in the fourth quarter of the 2023 Super Bowl and whether it should have been called. But the more impactful penalty was the false-start penalty in the second quarter by Eagles offensive guard Isaac Seumalo that proved to be a game-changer.
In the second quarter, with the Eagles leading, 14-7, they faced third and one with a potential quarterback sneak, but the penalty cost them five 4 yards.
On quarterback Jalen Hurts’ next play, he lost the ball after hitting his knee while switching from his left hand to his right hand, and Kansas City Chiefs linebacker Nick Bolton returned the fumble for a touchdown.
With or without the fourth-quarter holding penalty, Kansas City would have kicked the go-ahead field goal. But because the Eagles fumbled and had a false start, the Chiefs scored a touchdown to tie the score at a critical moment when they were struggling. This made it a costly mistake for Philly.
The importance for offensive and defensive coaches to have NFL quarterbacks who can use their legs as weapons is substantial, and Hurts’ ability to run is the Eagles’ safety net, regardless of the mistake made.
“A guy drops a pass, you don’t stop throwing it to him,” Eagles coach Nick Sirianni said. “A guy fumbles a football, you don’t stop running them. A guy throws an interception, you don’t stop throwing it. We have to be in the moment.”
It was evident from his long silences and dejected demeanor that Hurts was disappointed and full of regret.
“I hold myself to a very high standard,” Hurts said. “Obviously, I try to control the things that I can. I touch the ball every play, so obviously you want to protect it, but it did hurt us. You never know what play it will be, but it hurt us.”
Initially, it didn’t seem to affect the Eagles, as they responded with two touchdowns to close the first half with a 24-14 lead.
Though, a different energy seemed to be present in the second half.
The possessions were longer and harder. Players were slipping all over the field, and even though they changed their cleats, it didn’t help.
“It was the worst field I’ve ever played on,” Eagles linebacker Haason Reddick said. “It was very disappointing. It’s the NFL, you would think it would be better, but it is what it is. It’s not my decision to make. It’s not my call to make.”
The momentum was so out of sync that Philly’s defense couldn’t pick up on the same play-calling by Chiefs coach Andy Reid.
“They did a good job of adjusting,” Sirianni said. “And apparently — with us — them beating us in the second half, we didn’t do as good of a job as they did. We’ll all look at ourselves in the mirror and drag ourselves through the mud in attempts to get better. We just gotta do a better job of coaching in the second half.”
It was all Patrick Mahomes in the fourth quarter. Philadelphia collapsed, while Kansas City remained calm and collected. Hurts couldn’t get the ball out as quickly as Mahomes.
The explosive cuts by the Chiefs broke the Eagle defenders down, leaving wide-open slots in the red zone.
The holding call on Eagles cornerback James Bradberry in the last seconds of the game, which allowed Kansas City to be in prime field goal range, didn’t help.
“The Chiefs stay undefeated when they win the turnover battle,” Eagles tight end Dallas Goedert said. “We weren’t able to force any turnovers, and we gave the ball up, which is tough to overcome. I think we did a great job fighting through adversity and fighting all the way to the end. It’s little things that happen like that can be the factor of the game.”
There was plenty of anger among NFL fans after Bradberry received a questionable late penalty, but the player himself had no issues with the call.
“It was a holding,” Bradberry said. “I tugged his jersey. I was hoping they would let it slide.”
Hurts’ Hail Mary pass on the game’s final play fell to the field well short of the receivers, ending the game in an anticlimactic manner.
“I had a lot of confidence in it,” Hurts said. “I ended up throwing the ball, and my front foot — my lead foot — ended up stepping on the back of Kelce’s and ended up slipping, and I didn’t get enough oomph on it. You hate to end the game in that way, but it was what it was.”
It was a disappointing outcome for Philly, but the journey and preparation brought the team closer together.
“You want to cherish these moments with the people you have come so far with,” Hurts said. “I’m so proud of this team for everything we’ve been able to overcome. Obviously, we had a big-time goal in the end that we wanted to accomplish, and we came up short. I think the beautiful part about it is that everyone experiences different pains, everyone experiences different agonies of life, but you decide if you want to learn from it. You decide if you want that to be a teachable moment.”
Ayanna Bronner is a sports media graduate student at Medill. You can connect with her on Twitter and LinkedIn.