The NFL's controversial and baffling catch rules came back to play a huge role in an all-time great Super Bowl

  • The Philadelphia Eagles beat the New England Patriots, 41-33, after Zach Ertz scored a go-ahead touchdown with just over two minutes to play.
  • Ertz's touchdown was controversial upon review, as he made a catch, dove for the end zone, and bobbled the ball.
  • Referees had to determine if Ertz had established himself as a runner, or if he was a receiver, thus making the play not a catch.
  • While the referees seemed to get the call right, the NFL may feel additional pressure to clarify the rule so that the league's biggest game doesn't come down to the rule book.


The Philadelphia Eagles won the Super Bowl, 41-33, and they needed two controversial rulings on the NFL's catch rules to do it.

The first came in the third quarter when the referees ruled that running back Corey Clement had not only stayed in bounds but had control of the ball as he caught it.

The latter came on perhaps the biggest play of the game, when Nick Foles found Zach Ertz on a slant on 3rd-and-7 with 2:21 to play. Ertz made run for the end zone, got hit, and dove for the touchdown. He lost the ball, and caught it again after it bounced in the air.

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Controversial catch rulings from Super Bowl LII
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Controversial catch rulings from Super Bowl LII
MINNEAPOLIS, MN - FEBRUARY 04: Zach Ertz #86 of the Philadelphia Eagles scores an 11-yard fourth quarter touchdown past Devin McCourty #32 of the New England Patriots in Super Bowl LII at U.S. Bank Stadium on February 4, 2018 in Minneapolis, Minnesota. (Photo by Patrick Smith/Getty Images)
MINNEAPOLIS, MN - FEBRUARY 04: Philadelphia Eagles tight end Zach Ertz (86) scores a touchdown during the fourth quarter of Super Bowl LII on February 4, 2018, at U.S. Bank Stadium in Minneapolis, MN. (Photo by Rich Graessle/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)
MINNEAPOLIS, MN - FEBRUARY 04: Philadelphia Eagles Tight End Zach Ertz (86) crosses the goal line for the game winning touchdown in the 4th quarter of Super Bowl LII on February 04, 2018 at U.S. Bank Stadium in Minneapolis, MN. The Eagles defeated the Patriots 41-33. (Photo by Nick Wosika/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)
MINNEAPOLIS, MN - FEBRUARY 04: Philadelphia Eagles Tight End Zach Ertz (86) bobbles the ball before regaining control for the game winning touchdown in the 4th quarter of Super Bowl LII on February 04, 2018 at U.S. Bank Stadium in Minneapolis, MN. The Eagles defeated the Patriots 41-33. (Photo by Nick Wosika/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)
MINNEAPOLIS, MN - FEBRUARY 04: Philadelphia Eagles Tight End Zach Ertz (86) bobbles the ball before regaining control for the game winning touchdown in the 4th quarter of Super Bowl LII on February 04, 2018 at U.S. Bank Stadium in Minneapolis, MN. The Eagles defeated the Patriots 41-33. (Photo by Nick Wosika/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)
MINNEAPOLIS, MN - FEBRUARY 04: Philadelphia Eagles tight end Zach Ertz (86) makes a touchdown catch during the fourth quarter of Super Bowl LII on February 4, 2018, at U.S. Bank Stadium in Minneapolis, MN. (Photo by Rich Graessle/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)
MINNEAPOLIS, MN - FEBRUARY 04: Philadelphia Eagles Tight End Zach Ertz (86) bobbles the ball before regaining control for the game winning touchdown in the 4th quarter of Super Bowl LII on February 04, 2018 at U.S. Bank Stadium in Minneapolis, MN. The Eagles defeated the Patriots 41-33. (Photo by Nick Wosika/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)
MINNEAPOLIS, MN - FEBRUARY 04: Zach Ertz #86 of the Philadelphia Eagles makes an 11-yard touchdown catch during the fourth quarter against the New England Patriots in Super Bowl LII at U.S. Bank Stadium on February 4, 2018 in Minneapolis, Minnesota. (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)
MINNEAPOLIS, MN - FEBRUARY 04: Zach Ertz #86 of the Philadelphia Eagles catches a 11 yard touchdown pass against the New England Patriots during the fourth quarter in Super Bowl LII at U.S. Bank Stadium on February 4, 2018 in Minneapolis, Minnesota. (Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)
MINNEAPOLIS, MN - FEBRUARY 04: Philadelphia Eagles Running Back Corey Clement (30) catches a Philadelphia Eagles Quarterback Nick Foles (9) pass for a 1st quarter touchdown as New England Patriots Linebacker Marquis Flowers (59) and New England Patriots Safety Devin McCourty (32) defend during Super Bowl LII on February 04, 2018 at U.S. Bank Stadium in Minneapolis, MN. The Eagles defeated the Patriots 41-33. (Photo by Nick Wosika/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)
Corey Clement (L) of the Eagles scores against the Patriots during Super Bowl LII between the New England Patriots and the Philadelphia Eagles at US Bank Stadium in Minneapolis, Minnesota, on February 4, 2018. / AFP PHOTO / Timothy A. CLARY / ALTERNATIVE CROP (Photo credit should read TIMOTHY A. CLARY/AFP/Getty Images)
MINNEAPOLIS, MN - FEBRUARY 04: Philadelphia Eagles Running Back Corey Clement (30) catches a Philadelphia Eagles Quarterback Nick Foles (9) pass for a 1st quarter touchdown as New England Patriots Linebacker Marquis Flowers (59) and New England Patriots Safety Devin McCourty (32) defend during Super Bowl LII on February 04, 2018 at U.S. Bank Stadium in Minneapolis, MN. The Eagles defeated the Patriots 41-33. (Photo by Nick Wosika/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)
MINNEAPOLIS, MN - FEBRUARY 04: Corey Clement #30 of the Philadelphia Eagles catches a 22 yard touchdown pass against Marquis Flowers #59 and Patrick Chung #23 of the New England Patriots during the third quarter in Super Bowl LII at U.S. Bank Stadium on February 4, 2018 in Minneapolis, Minnesota. (Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images)
MINNEAPOLIS, MN - FEBRUARY 04: Corey Clement #30 of the Philadelphia Eagles catches a 22 yard touchdown pass against Marquis Flowers #59 and Patrick Chung #23 of the New England Patriots during the third quarter in Super Bowl LII at U.S. Bank Stadium on February 4, 2018 in Minneapolis, Minnesota. (Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images)
Feb 4, 2018; Minneapolis, MN, USA; Philadelphia Eagles running back Corey Clement (30) celebrates his touchdown catch in the third quarter against the New England Patriots in Super Bowl LII at U.S. Bank Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Matthew Emmons-USA TODAY Sports
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The play gave the refs a difficult decision to make: was Ertz a runner, in which case he just needed to break the plane to make it a touchdown, or was he a receiver, in which case he needed to control the ball to the ground? He clearly did not do the latter, so then the question became, did Ertz make two steps and a football move to make himself a runner?

After a long review, the refs decided Ertz was indeed a runner, and that he had broken the plane and scored a touchdown.

The Eagles went up 38-33.

Here's the play:

 


On the ensuing drive, the Eagles came up with a crucial strip-sack on Tom Brady to get the ball back and later kick a field goal to go up 41-33.

The ruling may have stung Pittsburgh Steelers fans, who saw the Steelers get a regular-season touchdown overruled on a very similar play against the Patriots (though in that case, tight end Jesse James appeared to be a receiver, rather than a runner).

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Major moments from Super Bowl LII
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Major moments from Super Bowl LII
NFL Football - Philadelphia Eagles v New England Patriots - Super Bowl LII - U.S. Bank Stadium, Minneapolis, Minnesota, U.S. - February 4, 2018 Philadelphia Eagles�Rodney McLeod and Malcolm Jenkins during the national anthems before the game REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque
NFL Football - Philadelphia Eagles v New England Patriots - Super Bowl LII - U.S. Bank Stadium, Minneapolis, Minnesota, U.S. - February 4, 2018. Philadelphia Eagles? Alshon Jeffery scores a touchdown. REUTERS/Chris Wattie
Feb 4, 2018; Minneapolis, MN, USA; New England Patriots wide receiver Chris Hogan (15) carries the ball after a catch past Philadelphia Eagles defensive tackle Tim Jernigan (93) during the first quarter in Super Bowl LII at U.S. Bank Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Matthew Emmons-USA TODAY Sports
Feb 4, 2018; Minneapolis, MN, USA; Philadelphia Eagles wide receiver Alshon Jeffery (17) makes a touchdown catch against New England Patriots cornerback Eric Rowe (25) during the first quarter in Super Bowl LII at U.S. Bank Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports
MINNEAPOLIS, MN - FEBRUARY 04: Brandin Cooks #14 of the New England Patriots is tended to by the trainers after sustaining an injury during the second quarter against the Philadelphia Eagles in Super Bowl LII at U.S. Bank Stadium on February 4, 2018 in Minneapolis, Minnesota. (Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)
MINNEAPOLIS, MN - FEBRUARY 04: Brandin Cooks #14 of the New England Patriots is tended to by the trainers after sustaining an injury during the second quarter against the Philadelphia Eagles in Super Bowl LII at U.S. Bank Stadium on February 4, 2018 in Minneapolis, Minnesota. (Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)
MINNEAPOLIS, MN - FEBRUARY 04: Patrick Robinson #21 of the Philadelphia Eagles and Danny Amendola #80 of the New England Patriots are seperated by Malcolm Jenkins #27 after they exchange words after the whistle during the second quarter in Super Bowl LII at U.S. Bank Stadium on February 4, 2018 in Minneapolis, Minnesota. (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)
MINNEAPOLIS, MN - FEBRUARY 04: Tom Brady #12 of the New England Patriots drops a pass inteded for him from teammate Rob Gronkowski #87 (not pictured) during the second quarter against the Philadelphia Eagles in Super Bowl LII at U.S. Bank Stadium on February 4, 2018 in Minneapolis, Minnesota. (Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)
Stephen Gostkowski (L) of the New Enlgand Patriots walks off the filed following an unsuccessful field goal attempt against the Philadelphia Eagles during Super Bowl LII at US Bank Stadium in Minneapolis, Minnesota, on February 4, 2018. / AFP PHOTO / TIMOTHY A. CLARY (Photo credit should read TIMOTHY A. CLARY/AFP/Getty Images)
MINNEAPOLIS, MN - FEBRUARY 04: Corey Clement #30 of the Philadelphia Eagles makes the catch defended by Jordan Richards #37 of the New England Patriots in the second quarter of Super Bowl LII at U.S. Bank Stadium on February 4, 2018 in Minneapolis, Minnesota. (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
MINNEAPOLIS, MN - FEBRUARY 04: The New England Patriots defense tackles Nelson Agholor #13 of the Philadelphia Eagles during the second quarter in Super Bowl LII at U.S. Bank Stadium on February 4, 2018 in Minneapolis, Minnesota. (Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images)
MINNEAPOLIS, MN - FEBRUARY 04: Tom Brady #12 celebrates with David Andrews #60 of the New England Patriots during the second quarter against the Philadelphia Eagles in Super Bowl LII at U.S. Bank Stadium on February 4, 2018 in Minneapolis, Minnesota. (Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)
MINNEAPOLIS, MN - FEBRUARY 04: Alshon Jeffery #17 of the Philadelphia Eagles bobbles the pass under pressure from Stephon Gilmore #24 of the New England Patriots as teamamte Duron Harmon #30 (not pictured) intercepts the ball in Super Bowl LII at U.S. Bank Stadium on February 4, 2018 in Minneapolis, Minnesota. (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)
Corey Clement (L) of the Eagles scores against the Patriots during Super Bowl LII between the New England Patriots and the Philadelphia Eagles at US Bank Stadium in Minneapolis, Minnesota, on February 4, 2018. / AFP PHOTO / Timothy A. CLARY / ALTERNATIVE CROP (Photo credit should read TIMOTHY A. CLARY/AFP/Getty Images)
MINNEAPOLIS, MN - FEBRUARY 04: Chris Hogan #15 of the New England Patriots makes a catch defended by Rodney McLeod #23 of the Philadelphia Eagles in the third quarter of Super Bowl LII at U.S. Bank Stadium on February 4, 2018 in Minneapolis, Minnesota. (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
MINNEAPOLIS, MN - FEBRUARY 04: Chris Hogan #15 of the New England Patriots celebrates after a 26-yard touchdown catch against the Philadelphia Eagles during the third quarter in Super Bowl LII at U.S. Bank Stadium on February 4, 2018 in Minneapolis, Minnesota. (Photo by Patrick Smith/Getty Images)
MINNEAPOLIS, MN - FEBRUARY 04: Rob Gronkowski #87 of the New England Patriots catches a 5-yard pass for a touchdown against the Philadelphia Eagles during the third quarter in Super Bowl LII at U.S. Bank Stadium on February 4, 2018 in Minneapolis, Minnesota. (Photo by Patrick Smith/Getty Images)
MINNEAPOLIS, MN - FEBRUARY 04: Tom Brady #12 of the New England Patriots has the ball stripped by Brandon Graham #55 of the Philadelphia Eagles late in the fourth quarter in Super Bowl LII at U.S. Bank Stadium on February 4, 2018 in Minneapolis, Minnesota. (Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)
MINNEAPOLIS, MN - FEBRUARY 04: Brandon Graham #55 of the Philadelphia Eagles celebrates with teammates after forcing a fumble by Tom Brady #12 of the New England Patriots (not pictured) during the fourth quarter in Super Bowl LII at U.S. Bank Stadium on February 4, 2018 in Minneapolis, Minnesota. (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)
MINNEAPOLIS, MN - FEBRUARY 04: Tom Brady #12 of the New England Patriots throws a pass against the Philadelphia Eagles during the fourth quarter in Super Bowl LII at U.S. Bank Stadium on February 4, 2018 in Minneapolis, Minnesota. (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)
MINNEAPOLIS, MN - FEBRUARY 04: Tom Brady #12 of the New England Patriots reacts after fumbling the ball during the fourth quarter against the Philadelphia Eagles in Super Bowl LII at U.S. Bank Stadium on February 4, 2018 in Minneapolis, Minnesota. The Philadelphia Eagles defeated the New England Patriots 41-33. (Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images)
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Super Bowl 52 was a classic, yet the NFL can't be happy that the game came down its most controversial and confusing rule. NBC's Cris Collinsworth had previously exclaimed "I give up!" when the referees ruled that Clement had scored a touchdown. The ruling on Ertz's touchdown seemed less controversial, but fans could quibble with the call, nonetheless. And Clement's touchdown ended up playing a big part in a game decided by eight points.

Roger Goodell has said he would like to re-write the catch rule to make it easier for everyone involved. That pressure may be magnified now that the NFL's biggest game came down to, "Was that a catch?"

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