The ending to Super Bowl LVII was a bummer. We all wish the final moments of the game lived up to the epic duel Chiefs vs. Eagles was — but conversation about the game-ending holding penalty on James Bradberry has completely jumped the shark.
Not only is there discussion about the call “costing the Eagles the Super Bowl,” but we even have the coach of the Cavaliers out here threatening the refs.
J.B. Bickerstaff — Cavs coach and unabashed Eagles fan — verbally sparring with reporters at pregame presser over the end of Eagles-Chiefs. NBA fines coaches for ripping its referees. Of NFL refs, says Bickerstaff, “I can kill them.”— Chris Mannix (@SIChrisMannix) February 13, 2023
It’s completely ridiculous, and the discussion has morphed to unfairly tarnishing what the Chiefs did in the Super Bowl in order to win. The truth is, Kansas City absolutely deserved it — because they stepped up in the areas they had to, adjusted at halftime, and beat the Eagles with experience.
The Chiefs won the areas they had to
It’s extremely reductive to boil the Super Bowl down to one or two factors, but if we simplify the game in these terms it’s clear that Kansas City did what was needed, and Philadelphia just didn’t.
- The Chiefs needed to turn the game into a shootout: CHECK
- Kansas City couldn’t let the Eagles run all over them: CHECK
- Patrick Mahomes had to be protected: CHECK
Meanwhile the inverse is true. The Eagles showed they could hang in a shootout with KC, which was a big part of their Super Bowl chances — but the team’s inability to establish the run, paired with their lack of pass rush ensured the Chiefs were able to get comfortable in the second half and establish their core abilities.
Kansas City’s second half adjustments were a masterclass in coaching
The Chiefs weren’t great in the first half of the Super Bowl, far from it. Defensively the team made an impact when Nick Bolton recovered a Jalen Hurts fumble for a touchdown — but Mahomes was playing very flat outside of his touchdown throw to Travis Kelce at the start of the game.
A prevailing theme of the Chiefs’ first half offense was predictability. Mahomes was throwing short to the right, intermediate to the middle, and deep to the left — without much variation. In fact, of his first half passes Mahomes largely ignored the left side of the field entirely.
Patrick Mahomes first half passing attempts
- Right: 8
- Middle: 3
- Left: 2
Whether this was a factor of the poor field conditions, or lingering issues with Mahomes ankle, the Eagles keyed in on this passing and ensured it didn’t allow Kansas City to break out.
Then Andy Reid and Eric Bieniemy flipped the script. JuJu Smith-Schuster was moved to the left of the formation, and was sent over the middle more often, to mask potential passes to Kelce. Then the passing offense was punctuated with short passes to the left instead of the right, and the Eagles’ defense didn’t adjust in time.
By focusing almost exclusively on quick hits over the middle it preyed on Philly’s defensive aggressiveness, which opened up the two touchdowns that decided the game.
There’s no guarantee the Eagles had a chance even with the Chiefs kicking the field goal early
There’s a wide assumption being made that the Eagles could have marched down the field and either tied the game, or won it had the Bradberry penalty not occurred. This is questionable, at best.
Had the Chiefs kicked the field goal following the Bradberry play it would have left the Eagles with 1:43 left on the clock at the time of kickoff, with one time out.
Philadelphia were effectively moving the ball, but in the second half their offensive drives slowed to a crawl. Defensive adjustment on the part of the Chiefs worked to grind down drives and prevent the big plays they gave up in the first half. Kansas City wanted to limit gains to 3-4 yards, and that’s just what happened.
On average the Eagles’ scoring drives took over five minutes each. Yes, Philly would have been in a hurry up set — but that’s putting a lot of pressure on Jalen Hurts to make sideline throws to stop the clock to even hope of setting up a game-tying field goal.
Sure, a defensive breakdown could have happened and the Eagles could have made a big play — but this was out of character for the second half of the game. The truth is that the longer the game went on, the more the Chiefs were pulling away — regardless of what the score showed.
The Eagles were fantastic, but the Chiefs deserved to win in the end
I know it’s difficult for Eagles fans, and the sting of losing a close Super Bowl like this will last a while — but experience won out.
Ultimately this was a case of an older, more experienced team finding ways to win against a young upstart with a lot of players who hadn’t been in a game like this before. It wasn’t dissimilar to the Bengals loss to the Rams in 2022.
Reducing this game to being about the Bradberry penalty is unfair to what the Chiefs did, and it’s not how this game should be remembered, even if the ending was deeply unsatisfying.