Opinion: Penalties, blunders, distractions doom Kansas City Chiefs in Super Bowl 55
TAMPA, Fla. — Run it back?
A better slogan for the Kansas City Chiefs, considering the 31-9 spanking they took from Tom Brady & Co. in Super Bowl 55: Different deal.
There is no repeat Lombardi Trophy. There was no magnificent comeback. And ultimately, no chance.
Just one big Super Meltdown for the team that hoped to become the first repeat Super Bowl champion in 16 years since the New England Patriots — quarterbacked by you-know-who — claimed a second consecutive crown in Super Bowl XXXIX.
Don’t blame it on the refs. The Chiefs committed 11 penalties for 120 yards and you could debate, what, maybe two or three of them?
No, people, the Chiefs embarrassed themselves. It wasn’t on the officials to bail them out.
“I’m not going to sit here and say it was the penalties that cost us the game,” defensive end Frank Clark said. “It’s multiple things."
What a tough moment and huge stage for Kansas City to have its worst game ever with Patrick Mahomes — and for the man hailed by many as the “next GOAT” to have the worst game of his NFL career. Mahomes, who threw for 313 yards, but didn’t lead his team to a touchdown and had two interceptions to weigh on his career-low 52.3 passer rating. Sure, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers defense contributed to the woes, with coordinator Todd Bowles mixing the blitzes to keep Mahomes (3 sacks, 8 quarterback hits) out of rhythm with a relentless rush that took advantage of the injuries that left the Chiefs’ O-line without its two starting tackles. But this went sideways in so many ways as the Chiefs lost for just the third time in 28 games.
The omens were there before the Chiefs even arrived in town a little more than 24 hours before kickoff after spending the week practicing at their team headquarters. Britt Reid, the assistant outside linebackers coach and son of Chiefs coach Andy Reid, had a car wreck on Thursday night that is being investigated as an alcohol-influenced incident, which sent two young children to the hospital. Poor kids.
Did the episode suck the air out of the team?
“It’s hard to put into words,” Mahomes said. “It didn’t take the air out of it. Guys were ready to play. But it’s a very tragic situation. I don’t want to say it affected us. But you’re definitely praying for those families."
The Chiefs began the week with another distraction that left two players, wideout Demarcus Robinson (2 targets, 1 catch) and backup center Daniel Kilgore, on the COVID-19 reserve list after they received haircuts at the team’s facility from a barber who tested positive for the coronavirus. Robinson and Kilgore were cleared late in the week after testing negative for several days. But they missed practice time. And the whole thing could have been avoided if the Chiefs — who like all NFL teams this season operated under stringent pandemic protocols — had merely waited for the results of the barber’s COVID-19 test before allowing him to lay hands on a single strand of hair. Just sloppy.
And a bad sign of things to come.
Turns out the Chiefs, who beat the Bucs here in Week 12 and were favored by 3½ points, just couldn’t do it again.
Shoot, they couldn’t even score a touchdown with the NFL’s most prolific offense. And they were 3-of-13 in converting on third downs. Not good.
Remember how Tyreek Hill burned the Bucs for more than 200 yards in the first quarter the last time? Well, Hill, double-covered extensively, sat on 2 catches for 13 yards until deep into the second half. Different deal.
Hill said he rarely saw the type of single coverage that aided his explosion in the November game. It was pretty much zone coverage with safeties positioned deep to help on the cornerbacks patrolling underneath.
“That’s what we game-planned for,” said Hill, who finished with seven catches for 73 yards. “Todd Bowles, he did his thing tonight. They just had a better game plan."
Yet the defining impression was left with KC’s self-inflicted blunders. It started bad and got worse. Mecole Hardman, seemingly hearing footsteps, lost focus on a deep third-down throw that might have netted 30 yards on the first drive. A penalty wiped out a booming punt by Tommy Townsend, who shanked the re-kick (29 yards) to set up a Bucs touchdown that might have been a field goal if Antonio Hamilton had not lined up offsides. A 34-yard pass interference call on Bashaud Breeland, who tripped up Mike Evans on a fly pattern, allowed the Bucs to strike for a score with less than a minute on the clock before halftime — just as they did in the NFC title game at Green Bay. Breeland’s faux pas, though, was compounded when Tyrann Mathieu was flagged for DPI, too, in the end zone, which set up the 1-yard TD pass from Brady to Antonio Brown. Mathieu was flagged also for wagging a finger in Brady’s face after the touchdown (unsportsmanlike conduct), which ran the tally to 8 penalties for 95 yards — in the first half.
It was that kind of night.
“It’s frustrating,” said tight end Travis Kelce, whose game-high 10 catches for 133 yards was undoubtedly half-empty. “It felt like one of those days where anything you did, they had an answer for it."
We’ve seen the Chiefs rally from deep deficits before in rolling with their championship flow. In the Super Bowl last year, they trailed the 49ers by 10 points in the fourth quarter before scoring three unanswered touchdowns. In the AFC title game, they trailed Buffalo by 9 early … en route to a blowout. Last season, they trailed Houston 24-0 in the divisional playoff and outscored the Texans 51-7 the rest of the way.
So, no, generally there’s no need to panic when the Chiefs fall behind. But none of that Mahomes magic held up this time.
Not against the Bucs defense. And not with Brady on the other side.
The last time a team tried to repeat as Super Bowl champs ran into Brady, too. The Seahawks might have pulled off a repeat crown in XLIX in 2015, but a funny thing happened. Brady’s team won again, thanks to a clutch interception in the final minutes.
This time, there was no such last-minute drama. Just a major reality check for the Chiefs. There’s no such thing as running it back, as the team’s marketing slogan suggested. Each year, each team, each season is a different deal. And a year after basking in confetti, the Chiefs watched as the Bucs celebrated on their home field.
“Very difficult,” summed up D-tackle Chris Jones. “We sacrificed a lot, dealing with COVID. We continued playing as a team. Just about achieved our goal.”
But close can be the worst.
As Jones put it, “It sucks."