Settling The Debate: Penalties and the Super Bowl

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Shortly after the Confetti fell and the Buccaneers hoisted the Lombardi Trophy the argument started. The principal one being that the Chiefs lost pbecause of penalties. This could not be further from the truth. This drive-by drive analysis intends to show why that sentiment is incorrect.

First Quarter: Slow Start

After choosing to defer the Chiefs kicked off to the Buccaneers. The first drive was uneventful. Hoping to get out to an early lead the Buccaneers would go three and out. After only gaining four total yards the Buccaneers punted.

Starting at their own 33 the Chiefs launched their first drive. Connecting on his first pass Patrick Mahomes gained three-yards. Unfortunately for Mahomes, it would be his only connection on this drive. After scrambling twice Mahomes would throw three more passes. The fourth pass of this drive, on third and eight, sails off-target of Mecole Hardman.

With a touchback from the punt, the Buccaneers start the third drive of the game. Short-lived, the drive ends with a sack of Tom Brady. After only four plays and nine yards, the Buccaneers decide to punt. The Buccaneers at this point looked poised to start this game like they did week twelve, slow. After all, Brady has no first-quarter touchdowns in any previous Super Bowls.

First Quarter: First Score

Starting at the Kansas City Chiefs 38 Mahomes and the offense get moving. But not with the passing game. Rather, they use the run game and scrambling to gain yards. On a first and ten at the Tampa 40, Jason Pierre-Paul is called for offsides. He was clearly offsides on the play. The first penalty gets the Chiefs five yards closer to pay dirt. The pass on this play was incomplete. Trying again to pass after the penalty Mahomes and Hardman cannot connect. Then the Buccaneers run game steps it up and stop Clyde Edwards-Helaire for a loss. On third and 11 from the Buccaneers again get pressure on Mahomes and he tosses a pass into double coverage and it’s broken up. A pass intended for Tyreek Hill. The Chiefs settle for a field goal.

First Quarter: Tampa On The Board

Starting at their own 25 the Buccaneers start to move the ball. Utilizing Leonard Fournette, the offense starts to chip away at the Chiefs defense. Momentum is starting to build for the Buccaneers offense now. On first and ten at the Tampa 40. Brady drops back and slings the ball deep. In the play, Bashaud Breeland clearly has to hold Mike Evans in order to keep from being burnt on the play. In doing so he impedes Evans from running his route. The flag was justified. The call moves the Buccaneers five yards closer. Subsequently, the Buccaneers found their groove. Compiling three first downs in a row followed by a touchdown pass to Rob Gronkowski. The Chiefs defense was on its heels.

End Of The First Start Of The Second Quarter

As the first quarter winds down Kansas City starts with the ball on their own 37. Mahomes first pass is an incompletion. Competing for only his second pass thus far he finally finds Travis Kelce for six yards.  On third and four, the Chiefs try a screen pass that is brilliantly snuffed out by the defense. It’s fourth down and the Chiefs are forced to punt again.

Second Quarter: Goal Line Stand

With the ball on their own 30, the Buccaneers start their drive. On the second and ten on the Buccaneers thirty Chris Jones is called for an obvious roughing the passer. It gives the Buccaneers a first down and 15 extra yards on top of the three gained. After the penalty, the Buccaneers charged down the field. One pass went to Mike Evans for 31 yards. Ultimately the Buccaneers exploited weaknesses in the defense all the way down to the red zone. Finally, the Chiefs defense had a stop. Killing the drive with a turnover on downs at the Chiefs one-yard line.

Second Quarter: Another Punt For KC

With the ball back the Chiefs needed to prove they could muster a full drive. Especially since they are starting on their own one-yard line. Unfortunately, it was not to be. The Chiefs started to move but stall. On third down and eight on the Chiefs 17, Kelce drops a ball that hits him right in the face mask. He should have caught it. Forced to punt the Chiefs punter lets a long one rip. But the play is nullified as one defender drags a Buccaneer to the ground to prevent him from getting to the kicker. Obvious and blatant it was in front of a referee. On the next try, the punt goes horribly wrong and is very short.

Second Quarter: Buccaneers With A Short Field

As the Buccaneers start at the Chiefs 38 they look to pad their lead. On third and four the Chiefs intercept Brady. In the play, before the ball is thrown Charvarius Ward is called for holding. After the ball is released the defense bats it in the air and it ends up being intercepted.  The drive would continue until the Chiefs stop the Buccaneers on another third down. This time special teams came out onto the field. The kick was up and good, but Hardman lined up offsides. The flag came out as soon as the ball was snapped, much like the Pierre-Paul offsides earlier.

It was fourth down and five. The penalty was for five yards. The result was another first down. Tom Brady would then take the hike and toss a touchdown pass to Gronkowski.

Second Quarter: Chiefs Field Goal

Mahomes started to put things back together on this drive. He completed his first six passes as the Chiefs drove from the Kansas City 25 to the Tampa 14. Once they were down in the red zone things fell apart. A short pass went to Hill for a loss of one yard. Then to Kelce for five to make it third and a long six. On third down the offensive line collapsed in epic fashion and sent Mahomes scrambling backward almost 20 yards. Eventually, he threw it away. The Chiefs then settle for a field goal.

Second Quarter: A Contentious Drive

Probably the most problematic drive of the game. Starting at the Tampa 29, the Buccaneers start. The Buccaneers fail to gain any yardage on the first play and the Chiefs burn a time out. Chris Godwin then gets an eight-yard gain. Kansa City burns their second time out. On third down Brady and Gronkowski connect for another first down.

Here’s where things get interesting. Brady then drops back on first down and tries to hit Evans long. A penalty is called on Breeland for pass interference. The play looks more like incidental contact (I would have called it incidental).  The result is 34 yards gained. It accelerates the drive.

Fournette gains 15 yards and sets up the Buccaneers in the red zone. On the next play, a pass to Evans in the endzone, Tyrann Mathieu is flagged for pass interference. It Moves the ball for the Buccaneers who eventually score and go up 21-6 at the half.  In my opinion, the ball was uncatchable and Mathieu should not have been flagged.

First Half Summary And Argument: Offense

I saw the penalties as justified until the last drive for the Buccaneers. Now I know that will not sit well with my fellow Buccaneers fans, but I call it as I see it. But it did not influence the game to the point of changing the outcome. Here is why.

1) After the fourth Kansas City drive the Mahomes was a measly 3 for 13. Hardly recognizable from his stats elsewhere. By the half, he was 9 for 20.  The pressure applied by the defense was so disruptive he could not be himself. 29 (total game) pressures will do that to a quarterback. He was running for his life and the offense was overpowered.

2) The secondary was playing a game of max coverage. Their ability to double team the two main weapons, Hill and Kelce, left Mahomes with no real trustworthy options. Otherwise, he would have been distributing the ball more. It showed a lack of true depth for the Chiefs.

3) Uncharacteristic drops and third-down inefficiency killed the Chief’s offense long before the last Buccaneers drive. On third down, there was an overthrow of an open Hardman, a toss into double coverage to Hill, and a screen that was snuffed out. Additionally, Kelce’s big drop and an epic failure on the Chiefs’ offensive line added to the issue. All these occurrences were on third downs. The pressure was overwhelming for the Chiefs’ front line on offense and if you can’t convert on third downs you won’t win games.

Second Half Summary And Argument: Defense

1) Penalties on defense were unfortunate. No, I’m not talking about the last drive, because outside the last drive the penalties were justified. First, as a professional football player who is in the Super Bowl, how hard is it to NOT line up offsides? When the Buccaneers were held to a fourth down and trying for a field goal the Chiefs defense failed to maintain discipline, plain and simple. Just like Pierre-Paul early in the game as he was called on it too.

2) Mike Evans was beating corners left and right. The only way to control him was to hold him. Otherwise, he was going to destroy the defense. Once you draw attention to the fact someone can’t cover a wideout the refs start to notice it more and more. Now it is my opinion on the last drive the calls that went his way should have not been called at all.

3) As we look at the last drive some things come into play. One, the Chiefs had used their first two time outs BEFORE the controversial flags. Two, the Buccaneers were on first down when the first flag was thrown. There were only 24 seconds left at that time. If you take away that call the Buccaneers can easily run the clock out and prevent the Chiefs from getting the ball back.

In reality, the Buccaneers would have played a game plan similar to that of the game against Green Bay in the playoffs that closed out the half. Burring the clock and taking a deep shot at the last minute or punting. Either way, Kansas City does not score. Third, the second call was on first down as well. It’s not like it was third down and the Buccaneers were being forced to punt or kick a field goal. Essentially the drive was not over even if you take away those calls.

Final Thought On The First Half

If penalties are a go-to excuse for a loss, then there is no real accountability. Mahomes flat out was under pressure and incapable of creating momentum in the first half. Dropped passes are inexcusable, as is lining up offsides on a fourth-down field goal attempt.

Also, if your quarterback was recently an NFL MVP and Super Bowl MVP, then a performance of this nature is almost inexcusable. Especially when you have a Pro-Bowl/All-Pro wide receiver Tyreek Hill and tight end Travis Kelce.  Eliminating those two was key. Subsequently, the game plan by Todd Bowles was simply brilliant.

If your defense has its wind knocked out of its sails and losses its composure due to penalties in the first half of a game, it is problematic. Especially when the defense has the likes of Pro-Bowlers or All-Pros Mathieu, Clark, and Jones. If penalties take you out of a game, it’s a problem between the ears NOT with the referees.

Second Half Thoughts Before Kick-Off

Sitting in the locker room with an NFL MVP quarterback and other great talents you would assume the game is not out of reach at 21-6 Buccaneers. After all, that’s only a 15-point lead. Two drives from the touted Chiefs offense couple with a stop from the hyped Chiefs defense would fix that quickly. Right?

Second Half

Third Quarter: Chiefs On The Board Again

Down by 15, the pressure is on. Hopefully, half time adjustments were made to combat the smothering defense. With the first drive, the Chiefs get the running game going again. Edwards-Helaire had two first-down runs and was looking good. Eventually, Mahomes and crew find themselves in another third-down situation in Buccaneers territory. The defense forces pressure on Mahomes and he throws the ball over the middle only to have the defense knock the ball away from Kelce. A player, who all year, would typically physically dominate defenders. The Chiefs settle for a field goal.

One must question why the Chiefs did not use the run more in the first half. After all, it was looking effective. Especially since the Buccaneers were playing max coverage right from the start. That’s a failure on Andy Reid to change the method of attack.

Third Quarter: Another Tampa TD

The first defensive series for the Chiefs after trying to regroup in the locker room at the half and it did not go well. Starting at their own 26, Brady and the offense went 74 yards on six plays. Two huge chunk plays came from a wide-open Gronkowski over the middle and a smashing run by Fournette for a 27-yard touchdown. More importantly, the Chiefs defense let Fournette sneak out of the backfield on a third down and four. The result was a first down and the drive continued for the eventual touchdown.

Third Quarter: Mahomes Interception

With the score pilling up the pressure was on. With tight coverage, Mahomes held on the ball too long and was sacked. Now facing a third and long Mahomes dropped back with two defenders quickly closing in on him. He then launches a pass that ends up being deflected right into the hands of Antonie Winfield Jr.

Drive over.

Third Quarter: Tampa Field Goal

Riding the run game to grind the clock the Buccaneers roll with another short field. The Chiefs make a stand ultimately aided by a bad snap over Brady’s head for a fumble. This left the Buccaneers on a fourth down and 25. Ryan Succop would then knock out another field goal from 52 yards out. It would be the last score of the game.

The Rest Of The Game

The game played out much like many of the previous drives. Mahomes struggled with pressure and was unable to stay consistent. The Buccaneers, with a comfortable lead, then changed gears to remove as much time off the clock as possible.

Final Thought

Penalties cannot lose or win a game for a team. They can have an impact, for example, the Saints vs the Rams. That “non-call” cost the Saints an OPPORTUNITY to win the game. The penalties during Super Bowl LV did not carry that kind of weight. Long before the controversial calls in the last Buccaneers drive of the first half the Chiefs offense was already in serious trouble.

Mahomes was inaccurate and hurried behind a beat-up offensive line. The pass rush was dominating with only four defenders. Additionally, the secondary was double-teaming Mahomes’ primary weapons. This exposed the lack of depth at wide receiver. Furthermore, they did not adjust and utilize the run game to aid the passing game. This was a severe miscalculation by Reid. The offense was outmatched and coached.

As for the defense, the suggestion that some penalties removed them from the game is a poor excuse for their inability to stop the Buccaneers. If that one drive affected them so much then their ability to stay composed is their own failure.

As for penalty calling in general, I have heard “This is the Super Bowl, you have to just let them play!” In my opinion, this is absolutely not the way it should be. Penalties should be called the same as in the regular season, the playoffs, and the Super Bowl. To insinuate that because it’s the Super Bowl it should be different is insanity.

Lastly, let’s define a problem set that many don’t seem to understand. The phrase “continuing a drive” in reference to penalties is often misconstrued. It means when a team is on third down and they don’t earn a first down but a penalty is assessed that gives them the needed yardage. Or, on fourth down instead of a turnover on downs the drive continues due to a penalty.

At the end of the day, one truth still remains: The Tampa Bay Buccaneers are Super Bowl champions once again!

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