Under ideal circumstances, referees go unnoticed; they simply do their job, stay out of the spotlight, and go home. During Super Bowl 55, however, that didn’t happen. Whether you believe that there was something fishy going on or not, Kansas City Chiefs fans won’t forget the 11 penalties called against their team on Sunday night.
While KC fans are probably a bit biased when it comes to assessing the referees’ performances, they’re not the only ones who questioned a few big calls. In fact, a former NFL official believes some of the calls we saw on Sunday night were “highly unusual.”
The Kansas City Chiefs were flagged for 11 penalties in the Super Bowl
For better or worse, it’s generally accepted that referees will make fewer and fewer calls as you get deeper into the playoffs. Unfortunately for the Kansas City Chiefs, that’s not what happened in Super Bowl 55.
During the big game, the Chiefs were flagged for 11 penalties worth 120 total yards, with the vast majority of those yards came in the second quarter. To make matters worse, those weren’t just meaningless yards on drives that didn’t go anywhere; almost every flag came in a big spot.
Toward the end of the second quarter, the Chiefs defense seemed to make a game-changing play, intercepting Tom Brady on third down; a defensive holding penalty, however, gave Tampa Bay a fresh set of downs. Kansas City then looked to get another stop, forcing a field goal but were flagged for lining up in the neutral zone. That penalty gave Brady another free first down, and he promptly threw a touchdown pass.
Then, in the dying seconds of the half, the Chiefs defense imploded again. They committed two pass interference penalties, the second of which placed the ball at the one-yard line, allowing Tampa Bay to score another touchdown, essentially ending the game at half time.
A former NFL referee thought it was ‘very unusual’ to see a game called so tightly
As you might assume, both Kansas City Chiefs fans and Tom Brady-haters weren’t too happy with the referees on Sunday Night. They weren’t the only ones who thought the officials made some questionable calls, though.
“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,” former referee and Sunday Night Football rules analyst Terry McAulay tweeted. “But there is no question that was true in the first half.”
Throughout the evening, McAulay provided running commentary on the calls, questioning some that went against the Chiefs. He felt that the defensive holding call that negated an interception, for example, was more of a slip than a foul. The former referee also thought the second pass interference penalty, which placed the ball at the one-yard line, shouldn’t have been a flag.
“There doesn’t seem to be any crew cohesion as to foul selection,” he tweeted on another occasion. “Very tight calls downfield but an obvious flinch by Gronkowski on his long completion is ignored.”
The Kansas City Chiefs, however, had bigger problems than the referees
Whether you think they were fairly called or not, the penalty flags changed the game. The Kanas City Chiefs, however, had bigger problems than the referees.
In hindsight, Eric Fisher’s Achilles injury proved to be a massive blow for the Chiefs. Tampa’s defensive front had a field day against Kansas City’s patchwork offensive line, forcing Patrick Mahomes to run for his life on almost every play. That reality, combined with Todd Bowles’ defensive scheme and the Chiefs playing from behind, created a perfect storm. Mahomes had to drop back to throw but never had time to sit back in the pocket and work through his progressions.
At the end of the day, though, multiple things can be true. Were there some questionable calls on Sunday night? Yes. Did the Kansas City Chiefs beat themselves? Yes. Did Tom Brady win another Super Bowl? Whether you like it or not, yes.