The Kansas City Chiefs fell to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers 31-9 in Super Bowl LV on Sunday night, ending their quest to become the first team to repeat as champions since 2003-04. Despite a stifling performance by Todd Bowles’ defense to limit the NFL’s top-ranked offense to single-digit points for the first time since November 2017, the officiating crew is drawing backlash for the game’s outcome.
Overall, Kansas City was penalized seven more times than Tampa Bay (11 to four) for 81 additional yards (120 to 39), most notably on a pair of defensive pass interference calls leading to a third Bucs touchdown just before halftime.
In a curious twist just hours after the initial tweet at Brady’s wife, Randi Mahomes posted a photo of herself with Brady’s parents, Tom Sr. and Gaylnn, calling the pair “a class act.”
Hampered by a lingering turf toe injury and a battered offensive line featuring just a single Week 1 starter, the Chiefs superstar quarterback posted one of the worst statistical performances of his young career, throwing for 270 yards and a pair of interceptions on 26-of-49 passing. Forced to hold on to the ball for longer than most quarterbacks would prefer, Mahomes took three sacks and was pressured on 29-of-56 dropbacks — a new Super Bowl record, via ESPN Stats & Info.
Even worse? Mahomes ran for a total of 497 yards prior to his passes and sacks taken versus the Bucs’ defensive front, also a league-high for any quarterback this season.
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Chris Jones ‘Surprised’ at Officiating, Frank Clark Calls Super Bowl ‘a Fair Win’ for Tampa
After the game, a number of Chiefs players were asked about the officials, led by head referee Carl Cheffers. Defensive end Frank Clark had the most sobering take on the matter.
Tight end Travis Kelce took a similar stance on the infractions, admitting that the AFC champions simply needed to execute better.
As longtime NFL reporter Rick Gosselin noted on Sunday, Cheffers officiated three Chiefs games in 2020, including the Super Bowl. All three resulted in 10-plus flags on Kansas City, accounting for 60% of the team’s double-digit penalty games all season. Mass Live beat writer Chris Mason also points out that Cheffers threw more flags per game (15) than any other referee this season.
Defensive tackle Chris Jones struck a slightly different tone during his postgame media availability, repeatedly noting that penalties played a role in the game’s outcome.
Ex-NFL Referee Describes Officiating as ‘Very Unusual’
During the first half, former NFL referee and current NBC on-air rules analyst Terry McAuley tweeted out his expert perspective on Sunday’s flag-happy crew.
“It’s very unusual to see the Super Bowl called significantly tighter in the passing game than the way it’s been called in the regular season. But there is no question that was true in the first half,” McAuley tweeted on Sunday.
Given the Chiefs were out-penalized eight to one in the first half alone, the assessment was a reasonable one at the time.
NFL officiating watchdog site Football Zebras shared similar observations on Sunday’s crew:
I’ll leave the more pointed commentary to my colleague Cam, but I am sorry to say that there were too many marginal flags in the first half for defensive holding and defensive pass interference.
In the regular season, we were almost conditioned to see a flag fly for a defensive foul on a contested incomplete pass. The playoff crews seemed to let more go. But, in the Super Bowl, the flags came out again.
Nevertheless, even by regular season standards, there should have been more no-calls.
However, while it’s fair to say the sequence to end the first half may have contributed to deepening the hole Kansas City found itself in, the officials were far from the deciding factor in the 22-point loss.
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Chris Licata is an NFL contributor covering the Kansas City Chiefs from enemy territory in Denver, Colorado. Follow him on Twitter @Chris__Licata or join the Heavy on Chiefs Facebook community for the latest out of Chiefs Kingdom!