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CONTROVERSIAL TOPIC: Was THAT Super Bowl Pass Uncatchable? And does it matter? 



In the last two minutes of Super Bowl LVII, a holding penalty was called on Eagle’s defense number 24 who was covering Chief’s receiver number 9. Many Eagles fans believe the call was bad because the throw was “uncatchable” and the call cost time on what they believe could have been an Eagle’s comeback since they only lost by a field goal. 

Every major sporting event (or really, any event at all) comes with cries of rigging and unsporting behaviors from the officials that are meant to keep the game (or democracy) safe. There is often a lot of merit to these discussions, especially where massive amounts of money is being exchanged like in the case of betting on the Super Bowl (especially with legalized online gaming). 

In the case of this pass, let’s break it down: 

Author disclaimer: I am neither a Chiefs nor Eagles fan. I have ties to both markets. My social media has been perhaps skewed toward the Eagles because of how much I love Bradley Cooper. But I was deeply neutral on this game. Go Jags.

Was the pass uncatchable and did it matter if it was? 

The pass would not have been uncatchable if the receiver was not waylaid by the defender (more on that below). While a viewer could argue the pass would be difficult to be caught, per the rules of the game and the physics of human movement, the pass landed within the bounds of the end zone about 6 feet from the receiver (who seconds before had been held back by a defender). The ball hit the ground exactly two running steps ahead of the receiver. So, just from basic trigonometry, had there been no defender stopping the receiver from moving forward the ball could have been caught. In fact, the ball could have been caught by either the Chiefs’ receiver or the Eagles’ defender based on their position and it landed well within fair territory. 

To be totally honest, the claim that the ball was “uncatchable” is sort of baffling to me because that would only make sense had it gone out of bounds or was way beyond the reach of the receivers which is just absolutely not true. Would it be hard to catch? Yeah, it would have required a ton of hustle. But statistically, Patrick Mahomes had a 77% completion rate in the Super Bowl game and had a 68% season completion rate. The leading completion percentage in the NFL in 2022 was held by Geno Smith at 69%. Mahomes was right up there with the best. Odds are that the ball actually was very catchable per his completion percentage and the simple physics of where the ball landed. Hard to catch is not the same as “uncatchable.” Review the moment here posted by a Eagles fan who did not agree with the call.

The ball was catchable. Even if it wasn’t: It doesn’t impact the call.

A few credible (probably) social media users alerted the naysayers that a ball being “uncatchable” does not impact a holding call. 

The NFL rulebook makes no denotation about whether or not a ball is catchable or not catchable. The rule is pretty simple, even in the official rules not the guidebook, a defensive player may not grab onto the body or jersey of an offensive receiver. If they do, it’s a 5 yard penalty and an automatic first down. 

This image (also in the tweet above) clearly demonstrates holding per the rulebook and the handy video examples the NFL provides. The rules say there are three kinds of holding. The above frame clearly demonstrates the first kind of holding described in the video which is any grab of an eligible receiver. 

However, the Eagles’ defender #24 (James Bradburry) actually committed the second form of holding as well which is any grab of the jersey. See below. 

James Bradburry even owned up to the penalty in the locker room after the game saying he “tugged on the jersey.” 

In conclusion the ball was catchable and if it wasn’t it doesn’t matter. 

Though it is meritorious to trust no one and believe everything is rigged all the time, in the case of this call any cry to “let them play” is actually a cry for the referee to not call a defensive holding foul – clearly demonstrated per the letter of the rules – just because some fans think that the receiver couldn’t have caught the ball anyway. But actually, the entire idea of holding is that it prevents the player from being able to catch the ball. So if referees were calling fouls willy nilly based on whether or not they judged a receiver could make it to the ball, the game would be pretty unfair and also very confusing. 

You have been footballed.

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