Kansas City Chiefs defensive tackle Chris Jones celebrates with his son after defeating the Philadelphia Eagles in the NFL Super Bowl 57 football game, Sunday, Feb. 12, 2023, in Glendale, Ariz. (AP Photo/Steve Luciano)

Perhaps the most Mississippi-centric Super Bowl is history, and your Mississippi Today sports columnist has some thoughts on Kansas City’s thrill-packed 38-35 victory.

First and foremost, our Mississippi lads did not let us down. We’ll get to that, but first let’s get to the play everyone wanted to talk about immediately after the game. Yes, I am referring to the holding call against Philadelphia cornerback James Bradbury with just under two minutes to play. 

Patrick Mahomes – the fast-growing legend – threw an incomplete pass intended for Juju Smith-Schuster in the end zone on third down, seemingly setting up a chip-shot field goal that would give Kansas City a 3-point lead but also give the Eagles and their heroic quarterback Jalen Hurts plenty of time to either tie the game or perhaps win it.

Rick Cleveland

But wait! An official flagged Bradbury for holding Smith-Schuster on the play, which he clearly did. Bradbury reached out and grabbed Smith-Schuster’s jersey, delaying him a split second on his route. 

The Chiefs were awarded a first down and then were able to run the clock down, kick the winning field goal with just seconds to play for the victory. It was an anti-climactic finish to what was an otherwise entertaining game.

FOX network commentator Greg Olsen – who was terrific, by the way – immediately questioned whether the officials should make that call in that situation. Seemingly millions of fans did the same on social media. “You can’t make that call in that situation,” seemed to be the consensus opinion.

Here’s the deal: Smith-Schuster was the intended receiver on the play. He faked a pass pattern across the middle, then cut back to the outside. Fooled, Bradbury reached out and grabbed Smith-Schuster’s jersey. It was holding, plain and simple. In my opinion, you have to make that call regardless of how much time is left. I don’t subscribe to the “the officials shouldn’t decide the outcome” opinion. I look at it this way: A clear infraction of the rules should not decide the outcome.

It was the right call. And apparently Bradbury knew it. “It was holding,” he said, afterward. “I tugged the jersey.”

Case closed.

Mississippians – and there were nine on the two rosters – did not disappoint. A.J. Brown, the Eagles’s splendid receiver from Starkville and Ole Miss, caught six passes for 96 yards, including a 45-yard touchdown. Those are winning statistics in a losing effort. Brown clearly has become one of the best receivers in the sport.

For the winning Chiefs, defensive tackle Chris Jones of Houston and Mississippi State, anchored the defensive line, occupying two Eagles blockers for most of the night. Willie Gay, who weighs 240 and runs like a halfback, was in on eight tackles ranging from sideline to sideline from his middle linebacker position. Linebacker Darius Harris of Horn Lake and Middle Tennessee State was in on one tackle.

Eagles running back Kenneth Gainwell from Yazoo County and Memphis, accounted for 52 yards total, running for 21, catching four passes for 20 more and running back a kickoff 11 yards. He scored an apparent touchdown on the first possession of the game only to have it nullified by replay. Eagles and former Southern Miss wide receiver Quez Watkins caught one pass for six yards and narrowly missed a diving try for a much longer pass. It would have been a terrific catch and it’s a play he has made before both for the Golden Eagles and the NFL Eagles.

Also for the Eagles, cornerback Darius Slay, formerly of Mississippi State, made four tackles and big Fletcher Cox of Yazoo and Mississippi State made one tackle. Cox, as Jones, was often double-teamed by Chiefs blockers. Cox and Jones are perfect examples of how misleading the statistics of defensive linemen can be. Their tackle totals were meager, yet they consistently did their jobs, occupying two blockers.

Seemed a shame that one of the quarterbacks, Mahomes or Hurts, had to walk off the field a loser. Both played marvelously. Put it this way: Hurts threw for 304 yards and a touchdown, ran for 70 yards and three touchdowns, did not throw an interception – and lost. What Mahomes did, willing the Chiefs to victory on one good leg, is the stuff legends are made of – and he is one at age 27.

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Rick Cleveland, a native of Hattiesburg and resident of Jackson, has been Mississippi Today’s sports columnist since 2016. A graduate of the University of Southern Mississippi with a bachelor’s in journalism, Rick has worked for the Monroe (La.) News Star World, Jackson Daily News and Clarion Ledger. He was sports editor of Hattiesburg American, executive director of the Mississippi Sports Hall of Fame. His work as a syndicated columnist and celebrated sports writer has appeared in numerous magazines, periodicals and newspapers.
Rick has been recognized 13 times as Mississippi Sports Writer of the Year, and is recipient of multiple awards and honors for his reporting and writing.