Analysis: Bucs laugh off fouls as Chiefs see red over yellow

Kansas City Chiefs

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)

With such a paucity of penalties, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers were able to laugh off their infrequent infractions in Super Bowl 55, while the Kansas City Chiefs were seeing red over all the yellow flags thrown at them.

When Patrick Mahomes’ fourth-down heave to Tyreek Hill Jr. fell incomplete with four minutes remaining in Tampa Bay’s 31-9 shellacking of the Chiefs, Bucs rookie safety Antoine Winfield Jr. didn’t hold back on his payback.

He stuck two fingers in the face of the speedster who had done the same thing to him two months ago.

Whistle.

Fifteen yards for taunting.

Winfield chortled.

“It was just something I had to do,” Winfield pleaded. “When we played them earlier, Hill went off on us. He backflipped in front of my face and gave me the peace sign. So, it was only right that I gave the peace sign back to him at this moment. It felt amazing to be able to do that.”

Just before that, a fan ran out onto the field and Kevin Harlan’s hilarious radio call was a classic. Winfield said he appreciated the breather provided by the streaker who was finally corralled by security just shy of the end zone — he actually got closer to the goal line than the Chiefs ever did.

“That was funny, but honestly I needed it because we were getting driven on,” Winfield said. “When he came out, that gave me a little bit of time to catch my breath. I’m glad he went out there because that helped me out a lot.”

When the confetti cannons went off, the dethroned Chiefs had 11 penalties for 120 yards and the Bucs had four for 39.

Hill had seven catches for 73 yards, a decent day’s work but nothing like the performance he had in his last visit to Raymond James Stadium on Nov. 29, when he hauled in 13 passes for 269 yards and three touchdowns in Kansas City’s 27-24 win.

His scores staked the Chiefs to a 27-10 lead that day, and Kansas City withstood a pair of Tom Brady touchdown passes to Mike Evans in the fourth quarter.

Mahomes kept the ball out of Brady’s hands by hitting Hill one last time, for eight yards on third-and-7 in the final minute.

That sealed the third of what would become seven straight victories by six points or less for the cardiac Chiefs, and the Buccaneers left the field with a 7-5 record and more questions than answers.

Still, that fourth-quarter rally proved to be the start of the Buccaneers’ bounce back, Tampa Bay coach Bruce Arians suggested after becoming the oldest head coach (68) to win a Super Bowl.

Brady and the Bucs didn’t lose again, rattling off eight straight wins and beating Drew Brees, Aaron Rodgers and Mahomes — all fellow Super Bowl MVPs — along the way.

On Sunday, the Bucs became the first team ever to post four 30-point games in one postseason, and all 31 of their points came from players who, like Brady, weren’t on Tampa Bay’s roster last year: Rob Gronkowski, Antonio Brown, Leonard Fournette and Ryan Succop.

That had never happened in a Super Bowl.

The Bucs’ star-studded defense steamrolled Kansas City’s makeshift offensive line. ESPN calculated that Mahomes ran around for nearly 500 yards while trying to escape the Bucs’ relentless pass rush or find an open receiver. Even when he did find them, a half dozen of his passes were dropped.

The Chiefs uncharacteristically beat themselves as much as the Bucs beat them. By halftime, the defending champs had amassed more penalties (8) than points (6), setting the stage for the worst loss in Mahomes’ 54 career starts.

“When you have penalties in football games, especially when you’re struggling and you’re playing a really good defense, it’s hard to continue to get drives going and get in the end zone,” Mahomes said. “As far as defensively, when we have penalties that extend drives, I mean that’s how teams find a way to score points.”

The biggest flags were two pass interference calls over the span of three plays that led to a touchdown and a 21-6 Bucs lead right before halftime. One of them came in the end zone on defensive back Tyrann Mathieu that gave Tampa Bay the ball a the 1.

After Brown’s TD catch on the next play, Mathieu got into it with Brady and was flagged for unsportsmanlike conduct for wagging a finger in the quarterback’s face.

Unlike Winfield, Mathieu, whose earlier interception was nullified by a marginal defensive holding call, couldn’t laugh it off.

Mahomes lost for just the second time in eight playoff games — both to Brady, and this was just his second loss in his last 27 starts.

“The worst I think I’ve been beaten in a long time,” said Mahomes, who had never been held under double digits or been beaten by double digits as a pro.

“A bad day to have a bad day,” Chiefs coach Andy Reid lamented.

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