With just a few minutes left in the game and the Eagles nursing a three-point lead, Foles dropped back on 2nd-and-7 from the Eagles 34 and faced immediate pressure. He had a defender draped all over him but decided to try and force a throw to DeSean Jackson anyway. Bad choice. Patrick Peterson picked off the errant pass and had the Cardinals set up in Philadelphia territory for the possible go-ahead drive. But as the dust settled, sitting on the ground alongside all the fallen players was a yellow flag. Tyrann Mathieu had been caught holding Jason Avant, negating the play. Foles’ streak remained intact and, more importantly, the Eagles retained possession.
That was one of several critical plays down the stretch that hinged on a referee’s call (or non-call).
Arizona head Bruce Arians concluded his opening statement after the game by saying "refereeing did not determine us losing the football game. We didn't make enough plays." His players generally followed suit. But their body language in-game struck a much different tone.
"It went both ways," said James Casey, who was also involved in one of the defining moments late in the contest. "We had a couple big calls go our way at the end of the game but that's the way it goes sometimes. A lot of times you're on the other end."
Let's take a look at the key moments:
The Peterson INT that wasn't
Avant was asked if he thought he was getting the flag.
"I was hoping," he said with a smile. "Listen to me, when it comes to pass interference I don't know what the definition is anymore. I was hoping, especially when I saw 21 [Peterson] with the ball in his hands. I just started looking around after Riley[Cooper] tackled him and I looked back and there was a flag right where I was at, so I was like, 'Yes.' "
Avant explained that refs are calling the games differently this year overall, allowing defenders to be more physical with the receivers.
"They don't call illegal contact anymore. A lot of tusseling and things like that, they don't call. They don't call grabbing and pulling," he said. "If the ball is not thrown in your direction, it's not holding...Guys are getting away with a lot of stuff."
Mathieu was not so fortunate.
"I think it was a good play," said Mathieu. "I was just trying to be a good defensive back and was trying to get a good jam on him."
The Fletcher no-call
The greater leniency that Avant described may have helped Bradley Fletcher out on Arizona's final offensive possession. On 4th-and-5 with under two minutes to play, Carson Palmer's pass intended for Michael Floyd on the right side was broken up by Fletcher. The corner appeared to have his hands up around Floyd's shoulder pads initally. He re-engaged as the ball got to Floyd and was able to force the incompletion.
"We had a blitz on and I was holding my inside leverage and my ground," said Fletcher. "Then there was some contact at the break point, and I went and made a play."
The Arizona sideline was none too pleased with the referee's decision to keep the flag in his pocket.
'I could say a lot of things about [Arizona's protests]," said Cary Williams, "but it's the nature of the game, man. You've got helmets, shoulder pads. If the wide receiver is going to come up and play us physically, we're entitled to our space. If a wide receiver runs into me I'm entitled to get my hands up and defend. If I happen to hold, hey, it's part of the game."
Casey draws a holding call
The dagger came in the waning moments with the Eagles holding a three-point lead and facing a 3rd-and-4 from the Arizona 9. Foles rolled to the right and, with no options in the pass game emerging, kept it and fell to the ground to make sure he stayed in-bounds. Matt Shaughnessy was called for a hold on Casey. (An irate Daryl Washington was later whistled for unsportsmanlike conduct).That gave the Eagles a fresh set of downs, allowing Foles to take a knee to end the game.
"We were trying to run out the clock of course because all we needed was a first down," said Casey. "It was a similar play to what we ran earlier in the game when Zach [Ertz] scored a touchdown. We were trying to bootleg it and give Nick a run/pass option and get that first down and seal the game, and 91 just kind of held onto me and grabbed me and didn't let me get out on the route."
"Yeah, they held the crap out of him. Great call," added Chip Kelly. "They did. Watch it on film. He was supposed to run a route into the flat and there was no one else left. If they didn't hold him he would have been in the flat. I thought Nick made a good decision with the ball because he wasn't going to force it, we still wanted the clock to run unless we had a clean guy, clean, wide open. We were just trying to run to the edge with Nick and at least make sure we take some time off the clock."