Offsides. Unnecessary roughness. Unsportsmanlike conduct. Pass interference. And holding. Lots of holding.
The Kansas City Chiefs put on a textbook display of how to stop the Kansas City Chiefs in the Super Bowl on Sunday. They did it to themselves.
By halftime, they had amassed more penalties (8) than points (6) — and more frustration than hope. It was an undisciplined, uncharacteristic and somewhat unbelievable loss of composure that set the stage for a 31-9 drubbing at the hands of Tom Brady and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
Their 95 penalty yards in the first half were the most by any team in any of the 269 regular-season and playoff games played this season. They were one more yard than Kansas City had racked up in any single game all year. The Chiefs only committed three penalties in the second half to finish the game with 11 for 120 yards. It hardly counted as progress.
The team that ran like a classy, unstoppable machine through one championship season and over 16 more wins en route to their second straight title game imploded on itself. The Chiefs got too handsy in a vain attempt to cover Tampa Bay’s receivers, too jumpy on the line of scrimmage, too chippy when things didn’t go their way.
Each one of the eight first-half penalties hurt in its own way, none more than the two pass interference calls over the span of three plays that led to a touchdown and a 21-6 Bucs lead right before halftime. The drive started at the Tampa 29 with 1:01 left. Kansas City coach Andy Reid burned two timeouts, after two short Bucs gains, thinking the Chiefs might get the ball back.
The face of all this Kansas City frustration: It was defensive back Tyrann Mathieu, who, one play after a 34-yard pass interference call that put the Bucs in business, got hit with an interference call of his own that gave Tampa Bay the ball at the KC 1. After the touchdown on the next play, Mathieu got an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty for wagging a finger in Brady’s face.
No wonder he was frustrated. A few minutes earlier, Mathieu also sparred with Brady after his interception off a deflected ball was nullified by — what else — a defensive holding call. It was a marginal call that went against Charvarius Ward — lots of jockeying, and the sort of hand-to-hand combat that went unflagged through much of the playoffs.
It was only 7-3 at the time. And so, Mathieu said something to Brady. Brady didn’t back down. Brady came into the game with six Super Bowls titles, in part because he wins most of those mind games.
Now, he has seven.
Patrick Mahomes stayed stuck on one. Flustered all day and hurried by a Bucs defense that apparently didn’t get the message about KC, he completed 26 of 49 passes, virtually all of them hurried, for 270 yards and two interceptions. At least a half-dozen passes hit receivers in the hands but got dropped.
They weren’t the only ones with butterfingers.
With the Chiefs trailing 7-3 in the second quarter, lightly used punter Tommy Townsend dropped a perfect snap and had to scoop up the ball and rush the kick. It was a beauty that pinned Tampa back on its 30. But it was nullified by a holding call — a protector had to yank down an oncoming rusher to keep the late-off-the-foot kick from being blocked.
On the replay of fourth down, Townsend shanked the ball for a 29-yard kick and the Bucs took over on Kansas City’s 38. A penalty worth 10 years really cost the Chiefs 32.
The first flag on the ensuing drive nullified Mathieu’s interception.
The next was a five-yard penalty on 4th-and-5 — flag thrown by Sarah Thomas, the first female official to work a Super Bowl — that gave Tampa Bay a first down instead of settling for a field goal.
On the next play, Brady hit Rob Gronkowski for what looked like the second touchdown connection between the old Patriots teammates, who never looked better in the pewter-and-red that the Bucs wear. But there was a flag on the ground.
“Holding. Defense, number 34,” referee Carl Cheffers called out on the mic. That penalty was declined. It was 14-6 Bucs. Amid that sea of yellow, the Chiefs were seeing red. It only got worse from there.
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