Jeff Jacobs: Final result doesn’t come with a catch — or does it?

February 5, 2018 GMT

MINNEAPOLIS — What constitutes NFL greatness is beyond dispute.

For nearly two decades, Tom Brady and the Patriots defined greatness.

What constitutes a catch in the NFL is quite another matter.

It has haunted the NFL all season. Commissioner Roger Goodell even admitted so during Super Bowl week that the rule haunts him.

So you knew it was going to rear its ugly, ugly head in Super Bowl LII. You knew it.

This time, with all the world watching, with half of it convinced NFL officials are in the Patriots’ pocket, the call went against the Patriots in the second half.

Not once. Twice. For touchdowns. The second touchdown catch by tight end Zach Ertz with 2:21 left would make all the difference.

Yet it still came down to a last play. It still came down to Brady, shrugging off Brandon Graham and throwing a great prayer for the end zone. The prayer was tipped in the air. The prayer bounced off Rob Gronkowski’s helmet. Phillip Dorsett dove for the prayer. Gronk grabbed for it.

“I just wanted the ball to be on the ground and double zeroes to be on the scoreboard,” Eagles coach Doug Pederson said.

This time, the prayer hit the ground.

Eagles 41, Patriots 33.

No team should have to work as hard as the Eagles did Sunday night at U.S. Bank Stadium to win a championship game. No city should have to sweat and cry, cry and sweat, as long as Philadelphia has for its first Super Bowl triumph.

“If there is a word for everything, that’s what it means to them,” Eagles owner Jeffrey Lurie said.

Philly deserves it. The Eagles deserve it. A backup quarterback named Nick Foles, who did the same thing as Brady did a long time ago to step in and lead his team to its first Super Bowl title, certainly deserves it. And his Super Bowl MVP award, too.

With the teams amassing more total yards — 1,151 — than in any game in NFL postseason history, there was no shortage of mind-boggling moments. Not all of them were the product of great offense.

And perhaps as mind-boggling as any was coach Bill Belichick’s decision not to play defensive back Malcolm Butler. The hero of the Super Bowl victory over Seattle stood there crying on the sidelines before the game. It was hard to watch.

“They gave up on me,” Butler would say later. Belichick said it was a football decision. He gave his typical condescending answers about how he did what he thought it would take to win the game and that there are a variety of packages to consider. The Patriots gave up 41 points in the Super Bowl! Those ridiculous answers don’t wash this time. The fans deserve a better explanation this screw-up.

Brady, meanwhile, holds onto history as carefully as he holds onto his children. Yet on this night, wide open on a trick play, he dropped a pass from Danny Amendola in the first half. And wouldn’t you know it?

In a daring move, Pederson would go for it on fourth down on the Patriots’ 1 late in the first half. As Foles was barking out orders to his line, Corey Clement took a direct snap and pitched it to Trey Burton. Foles leaked out and was wide open to catch Burton’s pass for his first career reception. He also became the first player in Super Bowl history to throw for and catch a touchdown.

Yet the Patriots kept answering. And even after Ertz’ touchdown, Brady still had time to work his magic. He has brought back the Patriots from deficits 11 times in the postseason, including five times in the Super Bowl. Who didn’t think Brady, the NFL MVP at age 40, wouldn’t do it again?

Graham for one. He stripped Brady and the ensuing fumble recovered by Derek Barnett led to a Jake Elliott field goal.

“We needed a play,” Graham said.

After his much-discussed documentary of recent days, we can say this: Time did not beat Tom Brady, but the Eagles did. And for anybody wondering:

“Yeah, you’re gonna see me playing football next year,” Brady told Jim Gray on Westwood One before the game.

Afterward, Brady, who threw for three touchdowns and a Super Bowl-record 505 yards, said this.

“It sucks. Yep it sucks.”

The Patriots didn’t punt once. The didn’t turn the ball over. They amassed 613 yards. Still lost. The defense mush take much of the blame. The Patriots’ special teams defied them on this night. On a semi-botched snap, Stephen Gostkowski missed a chip-shot field goal. He missed an extra point, too.

No matter what the Patriots always seem to be able to overcome most anything except Eli Manning. Not this time.

There’s the matter of the 22-yard touchdown catch by Clement midway through the third quarter that gave the Eagles a 29-19 lead.

I’m going to say this once.

If the NFL can’t adequately enforce the catch rule, don’t look to me for an answer.

As Clement caught the ball in the end zone, he dragged one foot and landed his other. That would make it a legal catch. Yet the ball did seem to bobble in his arms a bit after the first step and before he 100 percent secured it, he wasn’t unable to get a second foot inbounds.

We’ve seen that catch ruled no touchdown throughout the year.

The officials ruled it a touchdown on the field. And this time the NFL replay gurus did not overturn it. Former NFL vice president of officiating Mike Pereira, who works for Fox, tweeted out that he thought the NFL got it right because there wasn’t enough evidence to overturn the call.

To be clear, I think it should have been a touchdown. But we’ve seen that call ruled to the tiniest little bobble caught by high-definition technology.

Patriots fans have a right to argue.

To be clear, I also think the Ertz catch should 100 percent be a touchdown. Even Amendola thought it was a touchdown.

He caught the ball, he turned, took a couple of steps, made a football move and the ball only came lose after he dove over the goal line and the ball hit the ground in the end zone. Pereira tweeted out it was so definite that he wondered why it took so long for resolution.

Jesse James.

That’s why.

The Steelers could have had home-field advantage in the AFC postseason if a similar play went their way against the Patriots.

It didn’t.

For his part, Ertz was beyond thrilled. And relieved.

“If they would have overturned that, I don’t know what would have happened to the city of Philadelphia,” Ertz said.

They would have burned the city down. That’s what.

That’s why the NFL has to somehow find consistency in its rule. It has a huge problem on its hands. Huge.