The undisciplined, lackluster performance in all phases of the Kansas City Chiefs in Super Bowl LV was difficult to watch. There were plenty of ugly plays to recall — but the toughest sight was the constant flying of yellow flags to the turf.
Kansas City was called for 11 total penalties against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers’ four. The 11 flags cost the Chiefs 120 yards — and they also came at the worst times. One negated an interception, one wiped away a field-flipping punt and another turned a field goal into a touchdown.
Head coach Andy Reid knows those calls are crucial — and not something he expects from his team.
“You can’t have that,” Reid acknowledged. “You can’t have penalties, not that many. We had 10 total. You’re taking space away from yourself defensively and offensively when you do that. It is uncharacteristic and it’s too bad it happened today.”
It does feel uncharacteristic, but the Chiefs were the fourth-most penalized team in the regular season this year, per nflpenalties.com. They had four games in which 10 or more flags were thrown on them — and two of those by Super Bowl LV referee Carl Cheffers — but it had yet to bite them like it did on Sunday.
Defensive tackle Chris Jones wasn’t happy with all the penalties, nor did he expect some of them to be thrown.
“I was very surprised,” Jones answered about the penalty totals. “This is the Super Bowl, usually you let the guys play — especially in the biggest game of the year. We had nine penalties for 100 yards. They had two. Penalties can change the game.”
Jones’ pass-rushing mate disagreed when it came to the Chiefs being caught off guard. Defensive end Frank Clark recognized that they could have made up for it by being better at the things they can control.
“I’m not surprised,” Clark began. “An action is an action. At the end of the day, we knew what we were getting ourselves into. You understand who the refs are, you understand what’s not going to get called. I’m not going to sit here and say the penalties are the reason we lost. It was multiple things.”
Quarterback Patrick Mahomes explained how penalties can kill a team’s momentum and game plan.
“When you have penalties in football games — especially when you’re struggling and playing a really good defense — it’s hard to keep drives going and get in the end zone,” Mahomes said during his post-game presser. “As far as defensively — when we have penalties that extend drives — that’s how teams score points. You don’t want to say that it affects you, but you want to go out there, try to find a way to win, and stay away from those penalties.”
Jones followed up his comments on the officiating by explaining how the iffy penalties can affect the performance of their defense.
“If a cornerback is pressing, and every time he presses they call a penalty, it can take him out of the game,” Jones pointed out. “It can stop him from pressing because he’s scared to get a penalty. It does affect your aggression as a player, and today we had a lot of them.”
The penalties helped Tampa Bay extend drives on multiple occasions. Cornerback Bashaud Breeland allowed two first downs due to penalty, and an unnecessary roughness on Jones negated a chance at third-and-7.
A pass interference on safety Tyrann Mathieu also extended a possession — but he had reason to throw his hands to his side as he saw the official toss the flag. The ball looked uncatchable and his contact was minimal — but close calls like that happen all the time in football.
“It was three possessions there, where at least 24 points were scored — they all came after penalties,” Mathieu emphasized. “Third-down penalties, first-down penalties, us giving those guys another chance to extend their downs. Any time you do that against any good football team or good quarterback, they’re going to make you pay for it. We had that one interception called back — that’s just how the game goes.”
Penalties are a part of the game, but they shouldn’t be to the extent they were Sunday night.
The Chiefs looked like a team full of players that hadn’t been to that stage yet. They were the team with penalties, drops, missed tackles and missed assignments — despite having the experience of playing and winning the Super Bowl just last season.
It was the worst loss of the Mahomes era — and penalties were a significant reason why. It proves that talent can only get you so far; it still takes strict discipline and focus on fundamentals to win each week in the NFL. The Chiefs had neither and will have five or six months to beat themselves up over not keeping it together for one more win.