Chiefs lose composure and see red amid a sea of yellow

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Kansas City Chiefs' Tyrann Mathieu (32) talks with back judge Dino Paganelli (105) during the first half of the NFL Super Bowl 55 football game against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers Sunday, Feb. 7, 2021, in Tampa, Fla. (AP Photo/Charlie Riedel)

Offsides. Unnecessary roughness. Unsportsmanlike conduct. Pass interference. And holding. Lots of holding.

All those penalties were too much even for Patrick Mahomes to overcome: Good as Tom Brady and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers were Sunday -- worthy champions, certainly -- the Kansas City Chiefs put on a textbook display of how not to perform in a Super Bowl.

By halftime, the defending champs 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 the Bucs that very few saw coming.

Kansas City's 95 penalty yards in the first half were the most by any team in the first half of any of the 269 regular-season and playoff games 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.

“It was uncharacteristic, and it was too bad it happened today,” coach Andy Reid said.

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. Reid burned two timeouts, after two short Bucs gains, thinking the Chiefs might get the ball back.

They didn't.

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.

“I'd never really seen that side of Tom Brady, but whatever. No comment. It's over with,” Mathieu said.

Mahomes stayed stuck on one title. 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. It didn't help that both starting tackles who had protected him all season, Mitchell Schwartz and Pro Bowler Eric Fisher, were out with injuries.

“A bad day to have a bad day,” Reid said. “But I'm not going to lay it on the offensive line. It took all of us."

At least a half-dozen of Mahomes' 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 a 29-yard kick and the Bucs took over on Kansas City's 38. A penalty worth 10 years really cost the Chiefs 32.

Then, the flags started flying.

The first one 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.

“Only referees can call the penalties, and penalties affect the game 1000 percent," defensive lineman Chris Jones said. “So, what can I say? We got a lot of penalties called on us today.”