It was one of the biggest plays of Super Bowl LVI, and put the Cincinnati Bengals in position to upset the Los Angeles Rams at SoFi Stadium on Sunday. On the first play to start the second half, Joe Burrow dropped back and found wide receiver Tee Higgins for an explosive 75-yard touchdown that gave the Bengals a 17-13 lead after a successful PAT by kicker Evan McPherson. Higgins strolled into the end zone with no one within a country mile of him, and the replay showed why.
Higgins grabbed the facemask of All-Pro cornerback Jalen Ramsey and turned it away from the ball, the momentum of the move leading to Ramsey falling forward and out of the play. From there, it was an easy grab-and-run for Higgins to give the Bengals the lead — no flag having been thrown for intentional facemask.
Simply put, the officiating crew didn’t believe it impacted the outcome of the play.
“Our rule is that if there is a grab and twist and turn, there’s enough for a foul,” NFL official Robert Torbert told PFWA pool reporter Joe Reedy, adding the officials saw no twist-and-turn of Ramsey’s helmet. “If there’s just a rake across the facemask, where there’s not a twist and turn even if there’s a grab, there is no foul. The officials did not see any contact that rose to the level of a foul for a 15-yard facemask.”
You be the judge.
The Rams were able to overcome Higgins’ touchdown to win the second Super Bowl in franchise history with a late-game drive by Matthew Stafford that was punctuated by a touchdown grab from eventual Super Bowl MVP Cooper Kupp. It wasn’t the only controversial call/no-call of the game, with a potential holding penalty going uncalled against Ramsey earlier in the game that led to a Bengals field goal instead of a possible touchdown for Cincinnati.
In the end, it wasn’t the worst outing by NFL officials this season, but it was also far from pristine.
There was also the festival of flags on the Rams’ final scoring drive that was a mix of the justifiable and the not-so-much, threatening to make the final game of the 2021 season a lasting reminder of just how controversial the officials have been over the past several months. With the Rams taking home the Lombardi trophy, the non-call against Higgins avoids going down in history as one of the most egregious in the Super Bowl era, but if they still wanted an explanation, they now have one.